Blackalicious @ Paradise Rock Club

I was in Boston last week for LinuxWorld. This is the second time this year that I have been in Boston for work– and I will be in Boston again in June for Microsoft TechEd. Seems the tech conferences are all moving there this year. I really like Boston. From a music perspective there is quite a bit to do there.

While I was there I saw Blackalicious with Pigeon John and the Lifesavas at the Paradise Rock Club. They also had Pharcyde MC Fat Lip and Leftcoast up-and-comer Omni on the bill. I went to the show with a couple of guys that I work with.

We got to the venue for the door opening at 7PM. Unfortunately, it was raining on and off all day and in the 30’s for temps. We stood in the will-call line for a long time periodically hopping up and down to stir up some heat. Judging by the others in line, I was the oldest person there.

When we got inside I went over to the merch table to see what stuff they had for sale. Lots of nice Blackalicious stuff– tees, CD’s, and some vinyl. There was stuff from Pigeon John, too. Manning the table was a couple of guys one of which I would find out was Omni himself. I picked up a 12″ of breakbeats. Omni helpfully explained that what I had in my hands was used by DJ’s. I nodded, consumed by looking at the stuff. At that point he shoved a record in my face– his record and announced that it just dropped and indicated that I should buy it. When I showed no interest he said that “maybe it’s too hardcore for you.” I nodded ironically and said that maybe it was. I headed to the bar. We snagged a nice corner table that gave us a great vantage point the whole night.

Before the bands started we got to hear DJ See Brown. He ran through a set of funk and HipHop with a little disco mixed in. He seemed to be warming up. He would be the DJ for Pigeon John, Omni, and Fat Lip.

First up was Pigeon John. I knew that he was signed to Quannum and I knew there was a bit of chatter going on about him. I frankly didn’t know what to expect from him. What we got was a fun and energetic set from someone who genuinely wanted to be there. He interacted with the crowd a lot and ran through his catalog including a couple of tracks from his forthcoming Quannum release due in the fall. His lyrics were very tongue in cheek and self deprecating. His set hit a peak when he had the voice of “god” telling him that him that no one in the audience liked him. He fell to his knees to great crowd shouting. Funny! A very good set. I look forward to seeing him in the future. I guess he tours constantly.

Next up was Omni. He did a thankfully short set. That is about all I remember from him except that he was wearing a Lifesavas teeshirt that confused a number of people who wanted to know if he was in that group. Based on that set, I certainly wouldn’t be buying his record.

Next up was Fat Lip. I hadn’t heard him before. I was roughly familiar with the Pharcyde. Based on what I heard this was mostly a set of Pharcyde stuff plus a new track called “Writer’s Block.” He was pretty entertaining. He flows a bit off beat, reminding me of Biz Markie. The crowd was full of fans. By this time the floor was pretty much filled up.

Next up was the Lifesavas. I had heard them before on a couple of other Quannum records as a supporting artist. Their set was very energetic. It reminded me of the Latyrx show I saw a number of years ago in Minneapolis. They did tracks from their upcoming release Gutterfly which seems pretty promising.

After Lifesavas was done, there was a break. I went up to the merchandise table. Pigeon John was manning his area of the table. I congratulated him on a fun set. I told him I liked MC’s with a sense of humor. He agreed and said he did too. I signed up for his mailing list. I asked him which of his CD’s I should get. He handed me Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister and said that this one was the one that Lyrics Born heard that made him sign John to Quannum. I also picked up a mixtape (are they mixtapes when they are on CD?) done by the Rev. Shines who is the turntablist for Lifesavas called Today’s Good News vol. 1. This was done as a tribute to the late JayDilla.

Finally, it was time for Blackalicious. I have seen DJ Shadow a couple of times, and Lyrics Born with Lateef as Latyrx, but I hadn’t seen the Gift of Gab with Chief Xcel. Now, I’ve seen the entire original Solesides/Quannum crew! Onstage with Gab and the Chief were two background singers– a guy and a girl. There was some concern voiced by some of the people I talked to in line as I guess that due to health issues, the Gift of Gab wasn’t able to make their last show in Boston, and evidently Lyrics Born filled in. No sign of that. While the Chief manned the turntables, the Gift of Gab prowled the stage like a bull in heat spitting out rhymes with precision and speed you just don’t hear from MC’s these days. They did all of the great tracks from Blazing Arrow and Nia, plus a handful of tracks from their new release The Craft. They also did “Puttin’ on the Ritz” off of the Gift of Gab’s solo record 4th Dimensional Rocket Ships Going Up. The crowd went nuts during the couple of freestyles that he delivered. I think that the Gift of Gab is still one of the best MC’s around. In fact, the MC’s on Quannum all set the bar for style and skill. High points of the night included “Chemical Calisthenics” and also “Deception.” On Deception Gab had the crowd singing along to the “La De Da Da Dee Dee Da” part. They wrapped up the night with an encore that included all the MC’s from the night.

It’s pretty clear to me watching all of the acts tonight that the years of working have added a certain polish to Blackalicious’s set. They approached the stage with the confidence that comes with the seasoning of years of work. They knew how to work the crowd and had the whole place rocking.

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