Sunday, May 18, 2008
Busy Bee, Mac Lethal and Reach At Liberty Hall
It should have been an easy layup.
Start with an impressive assortment of the area's best hip hop acts. Toss in old school legend Busy Bee. Then imply that fans ponying up for the $15 cover charge would be rubbing elbows on the dance floor with Russell Robinson and other members of the national champion men's basketball team.
It didn't quite work out that way.
Toward the end of the night I spotted the Kansas guard with his pop in the back of the room. The star student-athlete looked exceedingly uncomfortable.
I don't blame him. It was an awkward evening.
As far as I could tell the only other athletes inside Liberty Hall on Saturday night were the handful of talented B-boys who danced energetically for hours as DJs spun in the largely empty concert hall.
Here's the night's stat sheet- Reach, Mac Lethal and Busy Bee played entertaining but abbreviated sets. The five or six individual DJs who took turns at the turntables were also good, but the five-hour night consisted of three-and-a-half hours of DJ-ing and ninety minutes of rapping. Thank goodness for Liberty Hall's liberal in-and-out policy.
Reach and the Soul Providers weren't in top form. They played early in the night for about a dozen people. Reach said it was the second of three shows he'd booked that day. The meager audience and the sticky room temperature also flustered him.
Even before he hit the stage, Busy Bee worked the room like a politician. He easily befriended me and the other old-timers who remembered him from back in the day. He made a vague reference to an imminent tour that would feature himself, Rob Base and others. (Incidentally, it's pretty amazing that Liberty Hall hosted both Busy Bee and the Egyptian Lover last week.)
"The Chief Rocker," a.k.a. "the backbone of the microphone," a.k.a. "hip hop's first solo MC" delighted enthusiastic diehards with old favorites including "Suicide" and "Running Thangs." He also extensively worked over the bass line and intro to Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines." When he wasn't instigating old school fun, Busy Bee made the distinction between MCs and rappers and carefully differentiated hip hop from rap music.
"Happy birthday, Russell Robinson!" Mac Lethal sardonically shouted as his set began after midnight.
I wrote a detailed review of a Mac show last month, so I'll simply note here that Mac was particularly unhinged Saturday. While he performed several of his most popular songs, they were topped by his stream-of-consciousness chatter. It resembled spoken word performance art, but without the pretentious implications the phrase usually implies.
He riffed on R. Kelly's trial (leave the man alone), M.I.A.'s fan base (trend-chasing young women annoy him), the small crowd size ("Happy Birthday, Russell!") and the absence of Sku, his DJ and running buddy ("He's fired!")
As Russell Robinson knows, sometimes you just have to grind it out.
Kansas City Click: It sounds crazy but it's true- The Cure are scheduled to perform at Starlight Theater Monday night. I'll bet you can guess my favorite Cure song without even clicking the link.
(Original photos- Reach (top) and Busy Bee (bottom) by There Stands the Glass. MP3 via Lawrence.com.)