Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lupe Fiasco and B.o.B Live at the Fillmore Irving Plaza, NYC, 4/10/2010

I wanted to get some thoughts down before this became untimely, and then I woke up and it was Wednesday. Well, screw it - here are some thoughts on Lupe Fiasco and B.o.B bringing the Steppin Lasers Tour to the Fillmore Irving Plaza last Saturday, April 10:

I don't want to say that I was more excited for the opener than the headliner (even though I sort of did), but having seen Lupe once before, I already knew the kind of high-energy, max-effort performance he was going to bring to the stage. On the flip side, I have had my eye on the Atlanta-based rapper once known as Bobby Ray since the very early days of Schiff Happens, and now that my attention has finally been rewarded recently with the massive success of the single "Nothin' On You," I was pretty damn hyped to see what kind of performance we were going to get out of him, especially considering that he's on the bill for all those awesome summer festivals I wish I were attending. Actually, let's keep things positive and not get started down that bitter, festival-less road.

I was a bit nervous when he opened the set with just a mic and a d.j., especially knowing that he's all about playing the guitar and playing with the typical rap style, but after two or three songs his full band was out there rocking behind him. Soon enough after that, B.o.B pulled out the guitar and let us know that he likes to name all his axes -- a feather-adorned acoustic, we learned, was known as "War Hawk" -- urging the crowd to offer suggestions for guitar names on his twitter page. Although there was a glimpse of it during an a capella run-through of "Generation Lost," Bob's true passion emerged when he was armed with the six-string. He's a talented rapper and lyricist, but his talent goes well beyond that. He has a wide range of abilities that could allow him to reach a much broader audience, which he displayed during an passionately-delivered acoustic number called "Letters From Vietnam."

Even though I went in hyping the emcee to my concert crew, I was surprised to see as many fans as I did who were not only eager to pour out their b.O.b love, but displayed a high degree of familiarity with the music. This was definitely not lost on Bobby Ray, either, appearing flat-out giddy at times as he chuckled his way through the set and definitely had a few "Wow, really? Okay!" moments when the crowd sang along or responded to certain things. He displayed his incredible talent and had a great time while doing it, and as a lover of live music, that's all I ever ask of the performers I go to see. B.o.B made a lot of believers at the Fillmore on Saturday night, and I suspect many more will join them after his debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, comes out on April 27.

As for the headliner, the room was packed to the brim and teeming with excitement for Lupe's set, and he delivered in the usual body-heaving, shadow-boxing, sweat-flying fashion that his fans (and critics) have come to expect. Personally, I'll never understand the backhanded comments sometimes directed Lupe's way that he goes "too hard" on stage, like it's an act that somehow detracts from the musical performance. To me, all of that stuff is the heart of live music. You're not just up there to play your music for me, you're there to create a body and soul experience. Happily for me and the screaming, unwashed masses jamming the Fillmore, Lupe set out to do just that as he ran through a mix of fan favorites and new joints from his upcoming album Lasers.

Classic favorites like "Go Go Gadget Flow" and "Superstar" notwithstanding, there were two highlights for me. Alright, three if you include Lupe introducing Diggy Simmons (yeah, that Diggy Simmons) as his newest label- and supergroup project-mate (I know, I know). However, from our angle, we couldn't see young Digs, and we were always Russy fans anyway, so we're going with two main highlights. First, Lupe's performance of the new song "Beautiful Lasers," which he prefaced by telling the emotional tale of how he the song was born during a dark period in his life as he "put down the gun and picked the pen up" to write it. If that is to be taken literally, it gives whole new meaning to "Hip Hop Saved My Life." But even if it didn't happen exactly like that, it's some heavy imagery and a profound reminder that life is a gift, and there's always more to gain by giving a piece of yourself to the world than selfishly taking yourself out of it.

The other standout moment from the night was the final number - a freestyle that lasted nearly 10 minutes. This wasn't your typical freestyle, which is generally speaking less a freestyle and more pre-written rhymes rapped as though they're being improvised. This was very clearly Lupe Fiasco weaving spoken-word poetry all alone on stage. I was impressed, if not pumping my fist and yelling "OOOOHHH!" after every verse (although, as you'll hear if you watch the video below, some idiots can't be helped, regardless of the setting...."Shots fired!!").

A lot of people like to hate on hip-hop as a washed out, auto-tuned landscape overrun with fake gangsters and bereft of creativity, but B.o.B and Lupe Fiasco put on a show in NYC over the weekend that displayed the best of the artistic expression, creativity and range of talent that the genre has to offer.

P.S. Yes, I took those (better than average considering I was in a packed crowd fairly far away) photos.

And because live music is awesome, click here for a few B.o.B tracks from Sunday night's show. [All The Way Live]

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