Last Night: DMX at the House of Blues

DMX, Charlene Renee, Iceberg

House of Blues
August 31, 2011

Better than: another stint in jail, among other things.

Earlier this year, DMX wrapped up an eight-month stint in prison for violating his probation (he refused a drug test). He was released back in June. Then, just this past weekend, he got arrested again -- this time because police clocked him as driving 102 miles per hour in a 60 miles per hour zone

No jail time this time around, though. Not yet, at least. 

And good thing, too, as another stay in prison would've kept last night's scheduled performance from the much-maligned rapper -- his very first live performance since his June release, turns out -- from being the epic, triumphant display that it was.

The iconic rapper appeared before his audience at 10:40 p.m., strutting onto a rather bare-bones House of Blues stage, backed by a DJ, clad in jeans and an over-sized orange shirt, and with a gold chain swinging from his neck. He was welcomed warmly -- a chorus of cheers and X's trademark barking emanated from the crowd, which, by this point, had eagerly bunched up by the front of the stage. It wasn't a huge turnout -- 500 or so, maybe -- but it was a dedicated audience, one excited to see the rapper back in action and even more curious to see if he could come close to matching the swagger, charisma and grit that made him such a force back around the turn of the millennium.

With his opening offering -- his 2001 single, "We Right Here" -- DMX answered any and all questions about his current abilities. The now-40-year-old rapper stalked the stage with the fervor of an emcee half his age, belting ferociously into his microphone and generally wowing everyone in the room. Prison didn't hurt his flow; his rhythm sounded as crisp and on-point as ever. If anything, it seemed, his jail time had sufficiently reinvigorated the oft-troubled performer. His next offering, "Who We Be," also from 2001 maintained the same high-energy appeal.

The crowd was hyped up, and so too was the performer. After just two songs, he could no longer contain his glee.

"I was made for this shit right here!" he screamed after making sure that the audience knew that this was his first post-prison performance. "I ain't going anywhere," he continued, the crowd cheering him on.

Then came his common, familiar chant -- or, more accurately, part of it. 

He bent over and shouted into his microphone once more: "This is not a fucking..."
"Game!" the crowd shouted back in unison.

X could only laugh in response.

"Shit," he said. "I ain't been gone that long."

Indeed, maybe he hadn't been. But, regardless, this performance still felt like an extremely long-awaited return.

X, to his credit, made sure to treat it as such, too. For "Ruff Ryders Anthem," he brought out onto the stage a crew of Fort Worth Ruff Ryders to egg him on. Moving forward, the hits continued unrelentingly: "Get It On The Floor," "What These Bitches Want," "Where Da Hood At," "Party Up," "X Gon' Give It To Ya," "Ayo Kato" "It's All Good," "Slippin'" and so on. It was a turn-of-the-century flashback, a reminder of X's many, many hits and his one-time status as perhaps the best rapper going back then. 

There were a few breaks along the way: a diatribe about the fact that he's just an average guy; a rant against rappers who focus solely on rims and other material things; a bit where he drank from a Hennessy bottle and shared it with those in the front row; and, most significant of all, the reveal that his next release (and first in five years) would arrive on November 22, which, far as X is aware is the same day that both a new disc from Jay-Z and Dr. Dre's the long-awaited Detox are scheduled to arrive.

On this night, although he avoided any new material and simply stuck to what he knew would work, he capably convinced the small but dedicated number of fans in the room that maybe -- just maybe -- he could still go toe to toe with such hip-hop titans. 

His bark, after all, still has plenty of bite. His growl, too, for that matter.

The whole thing lasted 80 minutes. It felt more like 15.

Earlier in the night, the opening acts had the opposite effect. Dallas rapper Iceberg kept his set simple and true to Southern rap's guides, but failed to connect much with the audience. Houston R&B/pop singer Charlene Renee, main support on this night, fared only slightly better with her Ciara-aping ways. The crowd only seemed partially interested -- and that much only came when, during a dancing spree, Renee appeared on the verge of about seven different wardrobe malfunctions, all of which she somehow avoided despite coming so close.

The crowd, clearly, was there for DMX and only DMX. They didn't leave disappointed.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias: I'm a Jew from the suburbs of Boston, so what do you think I listened to in high school? Mainstream radio hip-hop, and pretty much exclusively that, aside from various Fat Wreck Chords punk discs that somehow made their way into my collection. DMX was a king back in those days. I expected to leave disappointed. I left in awe.

Random Note: Of the 500 people in attendance on this night, maybe 40 or so were women.

By The Way: This show was both booked to the House of Blues and subsequently promoted by an independent agent, which might explain the small turnout. Regardless, lest it wasn't already clear, those who failed to attend this concert missed out on a great show. Perhaps one of the best of the year, even.

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