I attend a lot of live concerts. I haven’t always lived right outside of New York City and I feel the need to take full advantage of the fact that every hip-hop artist from underground backpackers to superstars in heavy rotation on MTV will eventually perform about a half hour from my house. I appreciate this luxury because when I was growing up there were no hip-hop shows (the combination of violence at late-80’s concerts, the way fans were portrayed by the media and the East/West rivalry of the mid-90’s scared most promoters away) and when hip-hop later completely crossed over into American pop culture I was living in the south and hip-hop shows came around about as often as Haley’s comet (I distinctly remember waiting with wild anticipation for Loon to do a club show in NC).
That being said, I really enjoy concerts and watching a musician really go off or a rapper just murder a verse live is way cooler to me than watching Kobe score 81 against the Toronto Raptors or some guy run really fast around a track. These are the five best live shows I attended this year based on the quality of the concert. If how much fun I personally had was a factor, Darius Rucker in Raleigh, NC and Maroon 5/Counting Crows at PNC Bank Arts Center would absolutely be included, however under the stated criteria they are removed from consideration. Also, because I am a complete Jay-Z Stan and I saw him no less than three times (twice in one week) this year, only one of his shows will be included.
FIVE: Lupe Fiasco at Nokia Theatre (NYC) Feb. 2008
I saw Lupe open for The Roots exactly one year before this and his live show improved by leaps and bounds in the span of twelve months. His first album was kind of slept on and he came back with a vengeance, taking full advantage of his second chance, much the way athletes get in really good shape and have monster seasons when they are about to be free agents, because third-chances (and in a lot of cases second chances) are about as common in Hip-Hop as 19-inch rims.
He performed most of The Cool and several key track from Food & Liquor and the set included an acoustic guitar performance, all of the guests on the album and a sick freestyle over the Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.” Through a sick album and a much improved live performance Lupe Fiasco became the “Superstar” his fans always believed he could be in 2008. (alright, that was a little corny)
FOUR: Dizzee Rascal at Webster Hall (NYC) May 2008
To promote Dizzee Rascal’s first US tour Def Jux pulled out all the stops and made this show a bona fide underground Hip-Hop extravaganza. The show was opened by Bus Driver, whose music consists mainly of screamed lyrics mixed with distortion from holding the mic too close to the speakers (think Jimi Hendrix without being cool). Then El-P took the stage and it was on! El Producto performed a lot of 2007’s album of the year (at least according to this blog) I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and a few older classics from 2002’s Fantastic Damage. One of Newark NJ’s finest, Tame One Joined him onstage for “No Kings,” but the fireworks really started when an unannounced Aesop Rock showed up and performed “Run The Numbers” and the underground classic “Almost Famous” (this song came out in 2003 and I still listen to it when I work out because of how psyched I get every time I hear it).
After El-P shut the place down with his bananas performance Dizzee Rascal came out and held his own for his formal introduction to US Fans (he’s been famous in the UK for about a decade). Combine this awesome show with the fact that it was in NYC’s historic Webster Hall (multiple floors of clubbin’ fun) and that I was in the merch line with Travis from Gym Class Heroes (who seems like a cool guy) and you easily have one of the best shows of the year.
THREE: The Roots and Gym Class Heroes at Roseland Ballroom (NYC) Oct. 2008
For a full review of what I refer to as “America’s Funnest Band” and the best live band in Hip-hop check out my blog from late October. Otherwise, just realize if you missed this tour to attend Power 105.1’s show at Continental Airlines Arena on the same night you made a grave mistake.
TWO: Glow In The Dark Tour at Madison Square Garden (NYC) May 2008
This was one of the best package tours I have ever attended. Lupe destroyed his short but powerful set, NERD (who I don’t even really like) were energetic and engaging live performers, Riahanna (who I generally regard as a poor man’s Beyonce) solidly performed her long list of hits and brought out Chris Brown, which made the crowd lose it’s damn mind.
Kanye West’s set included a theme of being marooned on a deserted planet and trying to get his space ship to take him back to earth. He rocked for close to two hours, did all his hits and except for a female-sounding computer and a brief appearance by Lupe Fiasco (“Touch the Sky” closed the show), he stood on the stage alone and thoroughly entertained 20,000 people.
ONE: Heart Of the City Tour at Madison Square Garden (NYC) May 2008
I have wanted to see Jay at the Garden since 2003 (this yearning was compounded by the fact that I have watched “Fade to Black” every 7-10 days since it was released on DVD), and it more than lived up to my expectations. The Dream was cool, Mary J. Blige performed a great set that included an unexpected appearance by Method Man for the all-time classic “You’re All I Need” and a lighter sparking rendition of “Stay Down.”
When Jay-Z took the stage it was pure Hip-Hop abuse (shout out to the Philly fan that introduced this term to my friend Don) as he rocked his hometown crowd with a solid mix of tracks from “American Gangster” and older classics like “Friend or Foe” and “Big Pimpin’” After appearances by Memphis Bleek and Beyonce he teased the crowd by starting many of his hits, but not actually performing them, by the time he got to the tenth or twelfth classic that he simply did not have time to perform it was clear to everyone in attendance that if Jay was not your favorite rapper, he had more hits than your favorite rapper.
Of the three Jay-Z concerts I saw this year, it can be argued that the one in Philly with appearances by T.I. and Ludacris was actually a better show, but seeing Jay-Z in the Garden is something every music fan should do at least once in their lifetime.