Rock The Bells Tour with Mobb Deep, Raekwon, Ghostface and Vicious Cycle
Sunday, August 14
House of Blues
Better than: an unrequited longing for Golden Age hip-hop.
Sunday night was an unabashed nostalgia fest for the crowd at House of Blues, particularly for those whose school days, much like this concert, began by spread-eagling for security guards to give them the once-over with hand-held metal detectors.
It was a flashback to 1995, specifically -- the year that both headlining duos released their most acclaimed albums, Mobb Deep with The Infamous and Wu-Tang Clansman Raekwon (with enough of an assist by Ghostface that he appears on the cover) with his solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx....
The show was billed as complete performances of those two albums, each in its entirety. But both sets turned out to be both more and less than line-for-line recitals of those 15-year-old efforts.
Raekwon and Ghostface looked about a thousand times more interested in their performance than each looked during the Wu-Tang show at the Granada back in December. Ghostface in particular performed with a gritty intensity that he failed to bring to his last solo appearance.
Their set definitely trimmed some material from the Godfather-inspired masterpiece that is Cuban Linx, but made up for the truncations with crowd-pleasing verses from full-on Wu classics "C.R.E.A.M." and "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta Fuck Wit" and, in what has become the standard-issue tribute to Ol' Dirty Bastard from Wu members and non-members alike, the first verse and chorus of "Shimmy Shimmy Ya." Cappadonna bolstered the set considerably.
Mobb Deep's set kept up the energy, even if the crowd thinned slightly between sets. Judging by the fervor with which the crowd threw up their W hand signs during the Raekwon set, it would have made just as much sense for the order to have been reversed, as it was in Houston Saturday. But regardless, Havoc and Prodigy, with Alchemist on turntables, belted out their narratives with enough swagger that you'd have thought they owned the place.
Supernatural served as something of a host, hyping up the crowd before the Raekwon/Ghostface set with the command to "Buy some motherfucking merchandise," and proved himself a nimble freestyler as well. Rather than take shouted topic suggestions from the audience the way Astronautalis might, he instead took cues in the form of objects handed to him -- and not always returned. Referring to an ink pen, he replied, "I don't need this, it's all off the dome." And when someone made the mistake of passing up a $20 bill, he predictably found a way to work in the phrase "keep this 20 as a tip."
Personal Bias: I'm a huge fan of Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and all things Wu, but somehow missed the boat on Mobb Deep, aside from "Shook Ones Pt. II." I've got some catching up to do.
Random Note: Spinderella, now a Dallas resident, made a cameo appearance near the end of the Raekwon/Ghostface set to wild applause, proving the nostalgia wasn't limited to 1995. She didn't get behind the turntables, though, instead just waving and walking across the stage. No cameo by that other famous female Dallas hip-hop icon (and past Rock the Bells Festival performer) Erykah Badu.
By the Way: Local opening act Vicious Cycle easily won over an audience that seemed a tad skeptical of two female MCs. With some impressive lyricism, they managed to sidestep the two pigeonholes that hip-hop seems to have carved out for women rappers: tough chick or sex machine. Also, one of their lines, "Circle circle, dot dot," was the first time I've ever heard the cooties shot referenced in song.