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Beats Per Millennium - Concert Review: Nas at the Chicago House of Blues, 08/31/08

Concert Review: Nas at the Chicago House of Blues, 08/31/08

Forget Cubs fans – hip hop fans have some of the steeliest patience you’ll find anywhere.

You know the story – you go to a hip hop show, you’re running late, you’re afraid you’re going to miss the beginning of the opening set. Then you get there, everyone is standing around talking, and the first set doesn’t start until an hour after it was scheduled. It can be at a huge festival like this summer’s Rock the Bells, where at its Chicago stop second-billed Nas saw his set cut in half by poor planning, with barely an opportunity to play five songs. It can be at a Young Jeezy show at the House of Blues, where the wait between the opener and the headliner is upwards of an hour. Doesn’t matter who’s putting it on – go to a hip hop show at any time of night, and you’ll be early.

I got to the early Nas show at the Chicago House of Blues at 6:00 pm, an hour after the doors opened. The joint was packed, naturally, so we headed up to the balcony to see what kind of view we could get of the show. Opener Jay Electronica never performed his scheduled fifteen-minute set, and Talib Kweli didn’t start his set until a little after 7:00. Here’s where that steely patience comes into play – the way the crowd reacted, you’d think he started right on time.

Talib covered all the bases on his quick twelve-song set, both playing tracks from his time with Black Star as well as pulling some off each of his three solo albums. Perhaps his greatest live asset is also his greatest liability: Talib knows how to work a crowd, and he brings an insane energy to the stage. But inject that much energy into a performance, and you lose the laid-back flow that makes him stand out. Like a Girl Talk performance, if you’re there to see a master at work, you might be disappointed, but if you’re there to have a good time, it can’t be beaten. Halfway through the set, as he spotted an audience member getting kicked out of the show for smoking pot, he addressed security – “don’t kick them out for that! I like weed too!” Though Talib suggested all the smokers just move to the back, it was to no avail – everyone lit up following the confrontation. Way up in the balcony, I got a second-hand high.

Special mention goes to the crowd. I had my 4’10” girlfriend in tow, and even from the balcony, she was stuck behind a wall of people and couldn’t see a thing. No less than three complete strangers offered to let her sneak ahead of them at different times in the night so she could get a good view. Following the conclusion of Talib’s set, the dude standing next to me got so psyched that he gave everyone in the vicinity, myself included, an enthusiastic high five. Be thankful, hip hop – you’ve got the greatest fans in the business. Pay them back – quit starting shows late. Especially early shows that need to be let out by 9:00 – you should never make Nas, one of the greatest MCs in the game, rush through his set. Zero for two, Guerilla Union.

Dishonorable mention goes to the asshole who threw something at me to get me to move out of their way, despite being on a platform two feet above me.

Nas, for what it’s worth, put on a Nas-worthy show. He’s an incredibly engaging live MC, and can’t be faulted for lack of effort. But why should he have to facetiously ask permission from the crowd to do another verse of “The World is Yours”? After playing “N.I.G.G.E.R.”, “Hip Hop is Dead”, and “Sly Fox”, he launched into six consecutive tracks from Illmatic. Maybe it’s me, but playing the three songs that launched hip hop blog “controversy” followed by abbreviated versions of six iconic songs from what is arguably among the greatest hip hop albums of all time projects a bad image of Nas. How much of Nas’s audience spends a lot of time watching Fox News? Isn’t fighting with the O’Reilly (Oh, really?) Factor a little 2003? Highlighting the headline-grabbing tracks and then quickly breezing through Illmatic makes Nas seem like more of a publicity hound than a seminal rapper, and his shortened set only compounded matters.

Nevertheless, Nas soared through the rest of the show, offering up outstanding versions of “Hate Me Now” and “Black President” and dedicating the final song of the set, “One Mic”, to all the upcoming players in the hip hop game in the all-ages audience, all the future MCs, producers, and CEOs. Maybe Nas really is for the kids. Whatever the case, by the end of the set all was forgiven. Setlist quibbles aside, Nas delivered a stellar, if rushed, show. Someday, a hip hop megastar will look back and remember this show and think of not the long wait but Nas asking the fans to resurrect hip hop with just one mic.

I Try
Too Late
Say Something
Hostile Gospel
Hot Thing
Sound of the Police
Give’em Hell
Move Somethin’
Get’em High
Get By

Hip Hop is Dead
Sly Fox
New York State of Mind
It Ain’t Hard to Tell
One Love
The World is Yours
Life’s a Bitch
The Message
Street Dreams
If I Ruled the World
Black President
Hate Me Now
Oochie Wally
Get Down
Stillmatic (intro)
Still Dreaming
Got Ur Self A…
Shoot’em Up
Made You Look
One Mic

Posted by Joe Kaiser at Sep 02, 2008 12:52 AM