Festival review: Major Lazer, Kendrick Lamar, Passion Pit, Kid Cudi, Calvin Harris, Japandroids, Best Coast, Icona Pop and more bring beaucoup talent to Buku Music Festival, March 8 and 9

Major Lazer at Buku Music Festival. Photo by Brian Benton.

It’s 1 a.m. and Mardi Gras World is still kicking. Spring breakers and locals alike are packed tight to see some of today’s top acts in EDM, hip-hop and indie rock. With shows starting at dusk and ending at three in the morning, the two-day festival known as Buku only got more crowded and more rowdy as the night progressed.

The festival sold out far in advance and drew a crowd of mostly twenty-somethings in tanks and shorts, even though until body heat warmed up the rooms, it was pretty chilly both days. Set along the Mississippi River, in the warehouses, ballrooms and parking lots of Mardi Gras World, where many Mardi Gras floats are stored, the industrial setting stood out compared to the usual grassy fields of most festivals. The vibe fit the bill though: Kendrick Lamar, EDM superstar Calvin Harris and the return of hip-hop oddball Kid Cudi all headlined. Other notable acts included Public Enemy, up-and-coming Atlanta rapper Trinidad James and Primus.

In just its second year, Buku’s youth was pretty apparent. Schedules and maps were hard to find, and the few available printed festival guides included some inaccurate set times and map features. In addition to artists spray painting graffiti to auction off for charity, the list of non-musical attractions included a skate ramp and something called “Fort Buku,” neither of which I could find.

The hip-hop and EDM dominant lineup also left the handful of bands that didn’t fit either of those descriptions, like Primus and Best Coast for example, scattered throughout the festival’s three main stages and without the excited crowds they deserved. The wide-ranging stage lineups had their benefits though, especially the fact that for some of the smaller acts, you could show up 10 minutes before start time and get to the very front of the crowd.

My Friday started with 19-year-old Odd Future wunderkind Earl Sweatshirt, performing one of his first solo sets since his return from boarding school in Samoa about a year ago. Despite a big crowd, Earl seemed dissatisfied with his performance. “I feel like the odd man out,” he said in the middle of his set of mostly new songs. Even with special guest Flying Lotus, the show lacked the energy of an Odd Future performance that the dance hungry probably hoped for.

Japandroids and Best Coast both put on solid shows despite relatively small crowds. Japandroids played a 45-minute-set that burst at the seams with fury and energy. The big festival stage gave front man Brian King a chance to run and jump around even more than usual. Best Coast played all their biggest songs — “Boyfriend,” “When I’m With You,” and so on — but fell victim to a crowd that shrunk with each song as fans headed to the main stage for Kid Cudi.

A clear separation took hold between the fans of each genre. I consistently could pick out a few of the same people in the crowd at each genre’s shows, despite the hundreds or even thousands at the stage. Someone with a horse mask on a stick held up from amidst the crowd, (perhaps so his friends could find him) showed at most of the big EDM shows, and a pair of girls repeated threw their own dance party in the back of the crowd during the hip-hop acts. And then of course, there were the people in the regular festival garb — patterned shirts and face paint, for example — who seemed to be everywhere.

On the main stage, Kid Cudi put on one of the best shows of the weekend. A few people I talked to referred to him as a 50-50 performer, suggesting that half his shows are disasters and the other half are spectacular. Buku got the latter. Kid Cudi seemed happy and energetic, and even his newer material from his to-be-released album “Indicud” got a great crowd reaction. He smartly mixed his hits in throughout the set, with “Soundtrack 2 My Life” early in the set, “Memories” and “Day ‘n’ Nite” near the middle, and “Persuit of Happiness” as the finale. I didn’t know what to expect, since Kid Cudi hasn’t performed much recently, but as the set came to a close, he proved he’s back and on top of his game.

Read more

Concert review: Rakim (with Mask and Glove, the 12 to 6 Movement and Tef Poe) feels and shares the love at the Coliseum, Friday, March 8

facebook.com/rakimallah

Walking in to the sampled ad-infitum percussion of “Apache” and spotting Kangol complementing a Dookie rope chain, I’d arrived to a Coliseum full of hip-hop’s golden-era purists eagerly anticipating the presence of a living legend — William Michael Griffin Jr., aka Rakim.

With four other acts on the bill, patience was unfortunately not even remotely observed at times. Fortunately, DJ Nick Fury foreshadowed the night with the simplest of samples — a guttural delivery of the word “beast.” An impressive show-and-prove emerged from his throwback technical skills — all respect to Grand Wizard Theodore: DJ Nick Fury dropped scribbles, flares and orbits amidst the first checkmark on a DJ’s checklist, beat-matching on point. His counterpart, MC Brief, forming Mask & Glove, subsequently took the stage to showcase inspiring wordplay that even better accentuated his inability-to-be-winded delivery. Unfortunately, the crowd’s response to each song, the loudest by a pre-God MC, seemed to indicate its eradicating interest in the repetitive flow.

A little more time reserved for the golden-era in-between sets allowed the crowd to realize they still knew every word to LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad.” Immediately following, “Paul Revere” got the club bouncing more. Regardless, it was apparent the crowd was becoming unresponsive in its single-minded anticipation. Essentially, it was thoroughly strange to have a Beastie Boys cut get such a raucous response, only to have another trio, similarly pigmented, loudly booed before having even let a bar loose from their lips. 12 to 6 Movement, not impressed themselves, actually had the trappings of a talented group. Thoroughly more enjoyable by simple virtue of the constantly interchanging voice, the group’s three members occupied radically different parts of the MC spectrum. Whether planned or not, the set ended swiftly after two songs.

Unceremoniously tasked with damage control — made worse by yet another false Rakim introduction — Tef Poe took to the turbulent stage center. “I ain’t those white boys,” his attempt at quieting a now restless, still-booing crowd, took the obvious, completely worthless assessment to an inexplicably dark corner.

Encouragingly, everyone got back to the music at hand relatively quickly. Easily enough, as Tef cut off the first song of a two-song set to get into the blast of braggadocio “Coming Outta Missouri.” Poe, fueled by his newly replenished need to prove, blessed the crowd by laying waste to the signature cut. The crowd, recognizing his 106 and Park Freestyle Friday champ pedigree, finally seemed to exhale.

If anything was left in doubt, the mere presence of the individual William Michael Griffin Jr. instills the utmost faith. Having read about the way certain individuals can simply take the air out of a room, I’ve personally never been taken aback to such an extent: The timelessness, the accolades, the sheer body of work, the utter single-handed evolving of a genre into its modern day, two-decades strong iteration, all at once, live and within reach. He took the stage and with it, every ounce of attention the Coliseum had. “How to Emcee” — by the legend who literally taught all your favorite rappers, and everyone on down to their favorite rapper’s rappers, the vitality of the art — blared as he arrived onstage. Feeling welcomed, Rakim shook nearly every hand in the front row.

Heavy on the classics, the set regularly had the crowd finishing lines. As if Rakim weren’t already appreciative enough, the crowd recited entire verses — both opening stanzas of “Move the Crowd” and “Paid in Full” — back to the best to ever do it. Soaking it in, Rakim kept his eyes closed and the mic open to the mass on the floor. Paying respect to his short stint with Interscope — wishful thinking allowed, a rekindling of the Dr. Dre partnership — he even hit the memorable yet elusive guest verses from “Addictive” and “The Watcher 2″ that set the template for modern-day Andre 3000. Approximately 40 minutes in, Rakim reassured, “The show’s just getting started.”

The aforementioned “Paid in Full” kicked off a supreme highlight reel, as it was followed by the debut album classic’s “I Know You Got Soul” and “I Ain’t No Joke.” Thoroughly feeling every bit of the euphoria he planted decades ago amongst the Mound City collective, he promised he wouldn’t let it be years before he came back again.

Wrapping up, he hit the staple that he wrote at 18 years old, the a cappella “Follow the Leader.” As wholly consuming and humbling as the man and the performance were, Rakim took a solid 40 minutes to get off and back stage — 40 minutes spent making sure every outstretched hand was shook, every camera had a picture taken and every word spoken heard; he regularly bowed his head to put the speaker’s mouth in his ear.

With his bodyguard, host and various staff urging him, Rakim finally acquiesced and disappeared with one last flourish of love, letting everyone know he felt every bit we ever gave him.

Concert review: Wax Tailor takes the Demo on a journey of music, video and imagination, Saturday, February 2

Wax Tailor at the Demo. Photo by Wil Wander.

The Demo, the newly redesigned venue where the Fox Hole has long lived at the Atomic Cowboy, started to fill particularly early on Saturday night for a rare appearance by Wax Tailor.

The crowd gradually saturated the area around the bar as DJ Needles treated them to a mix of mostly hip-hop staples with a few deep bass electronic instrumentals to balance the sound. By the time DJ Zev took over, the floor space was beginning to be at a premium. Moving untouched was impossible.

Zev opened with a short set of popular songs in a mash style that was hit or miss with the tastes of the diverse crowd, but they all came around when Sam Lachow and Raz Simone took the stage. The Seattle partnership produced a genuinely pleasing sound with mellow flows and opened with a selection of tracks that featured jazz samples and instrumental production. They all seemed to have an ear for the music and a sense of showmanship that connected well with most of the crowd, though others craved a little more depth from the lyrical content and over-all composition. Nevertheless, the crowd filled in thickly and was well primed for the long awaited headliners.

The banner on the DJ table was decorated with the tour logo and read “Wax Tailor: The Dusty Rainbow Experience”; it could not have been more aptly titled. Based off the 2012 album “Dusty Rainbow From the Dark,” the entire show flowed together with a mix of music and video that took the audience on a journey with this magnificent French act. The album itself features a narrative of a young boy and his record player. That story of a voyage into his imagination was also featured in the performance.

The show included the majority of the tracks from the album, tastefully mixed with selections from previous albums. Each track was accompanied by its own custom video, many using footage from the original music videos, but usually with adaptations to mesh with the live mixing element of the show. Beyond the narration of the album, the video experience showed the child aging and beginning his own family, adding a beautiful conclusion to the story.

Wax Tailor is primarily the alias of Jean-Christophe “JC” Le Saoût, but is never simply the producer-DJ. Throughout the course four studio albums, dozens of vocal and instrumental musicians have been featured, and many of them involved in the tours. Typically, there is a full band, but for this tour, two of the most cherished vocalists in the Wax Tailor family handled the workload. JC stayed on top of a very active DJ mix full of scratches, loops and samples while hosting the entire experience.

Charlotte Savary handled the majority of the melodic and ethereal style vocals for the night. Possibly the most featured vocalist throughout the Wax Tailor discography, she sings with a delicate touch that is both jazzy and soulful, and undeniably enchanting. In addition to tracks she’s traditionally featured in, she masterfully handled songs originally featuring Jennifer Charles, Sara Genn and Ali Harter, drawing from their individual styles to mix with her own. Savary further connected with the audience with a natural stage presence that came out as she danced and interacted with the other performers.

In addition to the sweet sounds, Wax Tailor often built the energy back up with tracks that featured a skilled lyricist and performer, Daryl Parks. Known as Mattic, Parks energizes the crowd without relying heavily on hype, but rather uses clearly delivered flows, poignant lyrics and an inherent charisma to keep things moving. Like Savary, he went beyond the parts he recorded on the albums and handled verses by other performers such as Akua Naru, Elzhi, and A State of Mind (ASM). Even with these talented vocalists, the show included recorded verses as well, but all mixed live and delivered with the videos and narratives to fit the experience.

After the set, JC returned to the stage donning a KDHX t-shirt to perform an encore of two fan favorites from past albums before relinquishing the stage to DJ Needles and local hip-hop crew 18andCounting who performed for those seeking extended thrills on a snowy night.

Concert review: Mac Lethal joins local MCs Trak Masta Tom, Baytron and Farout for a hip-hop throwdown at 2720 Cherokee on Friday, January 25

Mac Lethal at 2720 Cherokee. Photo by Amy Burger.

The crowd was sweaty (and drunk) and the beats were thumping at artsy-grungy venue 2720 Cherokee last night as Kansas City-based, YouTube-sensation rapper Mac Lethal (aka David McCleary Sheldon) followed three local, rising hip-hop artists with an hour set of his rapid-fire rhymes.

A long-time lover of rap and hip-hop, I have a soft spot for nerdy white-boy rappers (hey, I grew up on the Beastie Boys), so when I first discovered Mac Lethal, I was instantly smitten. The 32-year old has been generating buzz in his hometown scene for years, but rose to quick fame when he began posting his raps on YouTube, particularly one in which he speed-raps over Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” while cooking pancakes in his kitchen (it now has more than 27 million views). I first saw Mac Lethal on actual TV, when he appeared last year on the pilot episode of AMC’s advertising-industry reality competition show “The Pitch,” when winning agency McKinney commissioned him to write a rap about Subway breakfast sandwiches.

Watching his YouTube videos and listening to his albums, one quickly realizes what sets Mac Lethal apart from many others in the genre: his subject matter. While much of today’s rap and hip-hop content still revolves around gangsta images of guns, drugs, violence and degrading women, Mac Lethal focuses on more cerebral topics like stupid people arguing on the Internet, misusing “you’re” vs. “your,” and his latest tirade against the gay-bashing, funeral-protesting Westboro Baptist Church. He balances the heavier stuff with a good dose of intelligent humor.

Admittedly, I haven’t been to many rap shows, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the evening, which promised Mac Lethal headlining at midnight, preceded by three locally-grown MCs: Trak Masta Tom, Baytron and Farout. I pictured something like the battle scenes from “8-Mile,” but in reality, the scene was more like a snapshot from some weird ’90s rave. Scrawny white boys sporting glow-stick gloves, hats and necklaces writhed around the dance floor creating a schizophrenic light show as drunken young hipster girls spilled beer and hung off of their necks.

We arrived just as first act Trak Masta Tom was finishing up and in time to catch a great set from Alton, Ill. rapper Baytron (aka Matt Beatty). To put it simply, this guy is good. Backed by a variety of samples and beats from his laptop, he pumped up the crowd with his deft skills and well-composed raps. Baytron has a rich and powerful tone to his voice reminiscent of some of the great old-school rap stars like Grandmaster Flash, Ice-T and Kurtis Blow.

Next up was St. Louis-native Farout (aka Eric Farlow). Admitting that he was missing his usual backing by DJ Mahf and had to rely on his iPod, Farout seemed a bit off his game, starting then stopping a couple of songs after botching lyrics. By mid-set, he got into his groove, though and continued to get the crowd moving and ready for the main event.

At midnight, with little fanfare, Mac Lethal made his way to the stage, backed by fellow Kansas City MC Alvie Nelson and another St. Louis native, Patric Brown providing the beats. The dance floor was suddenly packed, everyone waving their hands in the air as he began spitting his raps furiously. Mac Lethal is a study in “don’t judge a book by its cover.” The balding, slightly paunchy Irish kid with glasses doesn’t necessarily look the part of a badass MC, but when he gets going, he raps faster and with more precision than just about anyone I’ve heard. But don’t compare him to Eminem (he’s disparaged that notion in interviews and song lyrics). There’s really not a lot of similarity other than both being white and rapping really fast. Mac has a style all his own and he may well be rap’s next big star.

He packed his hour set with a variety of songs from his albums and YouTube videos, focusing on upbeat crowd-pleasers like “Calm Down, Baby,” “Jihad!” and “War Drum,” as well as tunes from his most recent album, 2011′s “Irish Goodbye,” including “Aviator” and “Jake + Olive,” a sweet song about his grandparents’ undying love. “Black Widow Spider,” an ex-girlfriend revenge song with a catchy harmonica hook sample, afforded another highlight.

About mid-set, he introduced the song that rocketed him to YouTube fame, the pancake rap, saying “Everyone says I sold out when I made this song, but I disagree. I think the lyrics on this song are great.” Brown beatboxed while Mac impressed the room with his lightning-speed delivery. He gave the YouTube fans another treat with the aforementioned Westboro Baptist Church bashing-rap, “Oh My God.”

It’s difficult for me to review a rap show – I can’t wax poetic about transcendent guitar solos or keyboard riffs or vocal harmonies. So when all of that is stripped away, it’s clear what it’s really about: the beats and the lyrics. Rap is poetry – a verbal expression of self, set to rhythm – and Mac Lethal has the skills of a poet laureate, carefully observing and absorbing the world around him, turning it into art and spitting it back at us with a vengeance and a smile.

Concert review: Downtown gets up with Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night at Lola, Saturday, December 15

Camp Lo at Lola. Photo by Wil Wander.

On Saturday night Lola was bustling and full of life long before the music started. People came in dressed to impress with nostalgic late ’90s style and quickly scattered around the club, filling every available seat shortly after doors opened at nine.

For many in the audience, this was a night 15 years in the making, and this slightly aging crowd regained their youthful spirit amid a buzz of anxious chatter.

DJ Mahf opened up the show with a one-hour DJ set blending many popular new tracks with a fair helping of ’90s flavor. The crowd was strangely unfamiliar with the local DJ, but all were quickly enamored with his skill and track selection which included favorites like the Digable Planets’ “Rebirth of the Slick (Cool Like That)” and the quintessential Souls of Mischief cut, “93 ‘Til Infinity.” By the end of his set, much of the crowd had already started to migrate to the front and vie for standing position.

Mahf was joined by Indyground compatriot and Kansas City emcee Steddy P to kick off the word-slinging portion of the show. The two have toured extensively together throughout the past year to promote numerous releases from the label including the recent While You Were Sleeping 2: End of the World Party. Steddy P came hard, leading with a selection of bangers to hype up the crowd with a mid-set, two-track feature from Farout. The crowd responded more notably to the tracks that were built from chill grooves and resembled the headliners’ classic style than the vigorous and powerful songs that dominated the set, but they were certainly energized and appreciative of the twosome’s ability to get the party moving.

After a brief hiatus, Mahf dropped the first Camp Lo track and the crowd fell silent for a brief moment of realization before erupting in cheers and screams. The Bronx duo made an entrance from the 14th Street doorway, each decked out in a nice coat, scarf, and fedora combination. They took their stances side by side on stage and immediately started the show. It was set to be a memorable night as Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba were going to perform their highly acclaimed debut album Uptown Saturday Night in its entirety as they have throughout the year to commemorate the 15 year anniversary of its release. Many in the audience knew all the words to every track, while most knew at least some of the words and screamed them out at every opportunity.

The small stage was confined by DJ set-ups on either side and didn’t allow for much movement, but the veterans remained lively from their stable stances on stage. After performing the album for a decade and a half, the two emcees have mastered their delivery and flawlessly performed without a single noticeable slip of the tongue, despite the toothpick in Cheeba’s mouth. Mahf had the honor of backing them up from the tables and meshed well, tactfully handling the cuts and the tempo changes track to track, each one resulting in instant cheers from the crowd. They performed each track from the album, obviously with the featured emcees removed, and made a brief announcement of some upcoming releases with producers Ski Beatz and Pete Rock. After a quick thank you and a final track from the album, they relinquished the stage as quickly as they took it.

The Vaporz took over the music for the remainder of the night, mixing a combination of DJs with a little bit of hype and delivering a set true to the classic elements of hip-hop. The crowd remained too thick to move to even to the bar or bathroom, but people were still fighting their way in to catch the aftermath of the great night. Camp Lo’s performance was brief but straight to the point and performed with expertise and the crowd was anything but disappointed.

Concert review: Spose leads a squad of Maine attractions at Fubar, Tuesday, December 4

Spose at Fubar. Photo by Wil Wander.

Perhaps it was simply an early show on a Tuesday or perhaps there just wasn’t enough exposure and promotion, but St. Louis did not show up to support Spose and the others from Preposterously Dank Entertainment. The low turnout was certainly not for a lack of talented performers.

A crowd of less than 20 assembled in the main performance room at Fubar as the performers took advantage of the small numbers to mingle before the show. Over half of the attendants traveled hours from distances as far as Dallas to join these southern Maine based artists in their first St. Louis performance, the furthest southwest they’ve ever toured. Despite the small attendance, every eye was locked on stage, every head bobbed on a spring and there was an abundance of hands carelessly waving in the air as the P-Dank family shared its unique hip-hop blend.

The performance was opened up with Ock Cousteau, a newer project featuring two members of the Educated Advocates crew. It teamed up emcee Mike B with DJ/emcee Jay Caron, who handled the DJ mix throughout the entire show. The pair had starkly different energy levels on stage, as Mike B bounced around as he delivered his peppered flow and Jay more commonly maintained a power-stance, punctuating his verses with intense facial expressions. Despite this difference, they meshed well together and had a clear chemistry as they doled out amusing lyrics over funky production.

Cam Groves followed with an impressively manicured set, building from downtempo grooves ripe with elements of soul to a more lively style, all accompanied by a traditionally styled flow. He drew the crowd in, nearly colliding with the front row as he often took positions at the very front of the stage in a variety of stances and poses. Set highlights included a sweet track that featured Kristina Kentigian on the hook, a magnetic narration piece, and a freestyle segment that wasn’t at all fearful to venture into double-time pace. A long time friend and collaborator with Spose, his set felt more like a second headliner than an opening spot.

Ryan Peters, best known as Spose, was far from alone when he took the stage. Cam Groves and Jay Caron each stayed on stage in support roles as Kentigian was welcomed back to the stage to be featured throughout the set. His style mocks the music industry, at times blending poppy elements and ironic use of gimmicks over a foundation of rock-flavored hip-hop. Sarcasm and satire are frequent in his lyrics, addressing the challenges of making it despite being a free-thinking individual from the corner of the country.

He opened his set with “Gee Willikers” and “Can’t Get There From Here,” two singles that well represent his style and message. Like Groves, he performed very intimately with the crowd, hopping from the stage a number of times and often remaining within an arm’s reach of the front row. The entire P-Dank group was involved in the liveliest set of the evening, leading the crowd in claps and backing them up on the call and response segments, including repeating a list of Spose’s favorite obscenities amongst cheers and laughter. At one point, Peters invited everyone in the crowd to “do something stupid,” and proceeded to dance in a goofy manner while the crowd joined with their own absurd moves.

After all the hilarity, Spose brought meaning back to the set with his later song selections, including a narrative about overcoming bullying called “Jimmy!” and closing with “Knocking On Wood,” which addressed the complaints of the privileged and taking things for granted. Throughout his set, the crowd crammed further and further forward until they were jumping and dancing shoulder to shoulder within the front five feet of the nearly empty room.

Spose proved to not only be a clever lyricist and musician, but a veteran and expert performer, sparing no effort due to the small crowd. This may have been one of the greatest shows that St. Louis simply did not attend.

Concert review: Blueprint drafts a night of innovative hip-hop at the Firebird, Thursday, November 29

Blueprint at the Firebird. Photo by Wil Wander.

The Deleted Scenes tour joined up with Indyground Entertainment‘s Always Support Locals series to serve the crowd at the Firebird a night of innovative and original hip-hop.

Local acts Scrub and Mathias & the Pirates opened the night, followed by Buffalo emcee Mad Dukez with producer and MPC phenom Fresh Kils, and was wrapped up by Rhymesayers’ veteran Blueprint, headlining the show. Each act included elements of live production along with potent lyrical flows, a true delight for the fan of modern, independent hip-hop.

The Always Support Locals series is a monthly highlight of Missouri’s expanding hip-hop scene, well established in Kansas City, but relatively new to St. Louis. November’s installment featured Scrub kicking things off. His act included mostly funk-based production, jammed out with Rob Bass on a vintage Rhodes, and fast paced, clever lyrics, poking fun at society and mainstream culture. He was followed by emerging act Mathias & the Pirates that featured former Earthworms’ emcee Mathias with former Grea Tones vocalist and emcee Ms. Vizion, joined by Grover Stewart on the drumset. They performed with all the flair you’d expect from these budding local legends, despite Ms. Vizion’s terribly coarse throat and a minor technical issue. The set included their lead single “South City Livin’,” and a couple chill grooved tracks to balance the performance.

After the local segment, Blueprint‘s Deleted Scenes tour continued the night with Mad Dukez and Fresh Kils. Relatively unknown outside the New York state underground scene, this Buffalo-based emcee is no stranger to the microphone. He crafted his set to build from what he called “small songs” to the “big ones,” bringing up the intensity and energy as the set progressed. He was teamed up with MPC based producer Fresh Kils, half of Canadian production-DJ duo, the Extremities. Already well known for intelligently juggled beats and samples, he didn’t fail to impress with combinations of speed, timing, and dexterity, all with an amusingly light stage presence. After building to their current single “Monsters,” they both demonstrated their immense skill and precision in a quickly accelerating piece, and Fresh Kils rounded out the set with his award-winning “Price Is Right” routine.

Blueprint concluded the night with another well crafted line-up of tracks from across his deep and expanding discography. He’s touring to support his most recent release, “Deleted Scenes,” but the Columbus native tactfully offered only a taste of the new tracks, using his experience as veteran performer to manicure his set to offer something simultaneously novel and familiar. He was joined by DJ Rare Groove, who has accompanied Blueprint on many tours before.

The set started with a low-key, down tempo piece that included a drawn out instrumental segment and clearly punctuated lyrics. He continued to demonstrate his ability to come hard to the microphone with passion and meticulous articulation without the use of traditional, crowd-pleasing bangers. That is certainly not to say he didn’t have any more energetic songs. He used the largely instrumental track “Body Moving” from the new album to add a bit more liveliness to the set, including the first appearance of his small keytar that has become a popular element in his performances. As the set closed, he added the humorous “Neighborhood Weed Man” to lighten the mood, and finished off the crowd with the highly danceable “Fly Away,” from his prized 2011 release, “Adventures in Counter Culture.”

Despite competition from underground moguls, the People Under the Stairs, the Firebird was filled with St. Louis’ dedicated hip-hop fans. In a testament to the quality of all of the performers, the headliners didn’t retreat to the comfort of the green room and remained engaged with the music on-stage, and even the smokers’ porch was notably sparse. From the drop of the first beat, this was a thoroughly impressive and enjoyable night of music.

Concert review: Matisyahu (with the Constellations) lift spirits at the Pageant, Wednesday, November 14

Matisyahu at the Pageant. Photo by Abby Gillardi.

Memories were made and lives were changed on Wednesday night thanks to Matisyahu and his songs of love, perseverance, acceptance and thankfulness.

The Pageant walls vibrated with anticipation as Matisyahu lovers of all ages filed in one after another in hopes of a show nothing short of transcendent. Before Matisyahu and friends took the stage the Constellations from Atlanta opened the show with sounds of Southern rock, swamp rock, soul and hip-hop. The band created quite an arousal for the fervent crowd and listeners responded with plenty of woops and hand waves. The highlight of the set was the funky and fresh “Right Where I Belong” from the Constellations’ most recent album “Do It for Free.” The band came equipped with tight drums, overdriven guitar and an afro’d bass player who used his hair pick as a guitar pick at one point.

Intermission came and went, the gear was changed and the lights were finally dropped to present the moment we were all awaiting for. The pulsating introduction featured the guitarist and bassist both on synthesizers and the drummer striking every drum within his reach. After the brilliant intro and light show, Matisyahu clad in a leather jacket and shades came out with his signature prayer-like chant. He may have dropped his Hasidic image but his intensity and energy has yet to be altered.

Several songs like “Crossroads” from his newest album featured more of Matisyahu’s elongated and ornate calls and chants with nothing but soft and repetitive bass, guitar and drums following him. Throughout the show, Matisyahu made all fans happy and played several songs from all of his albums including slightly reworked versions of well-knowns “King Without a Crown” and “Youth.” Even with these more popular tunes it was somewhat difficult to hear what he said but it was surely felt.

Later on in the night Matisyahu introduced St. Louis native, Micah Manaitai to sing “Sunshine” with him and the band. Micah won the opportunity by covering the song in a YouTube contest and was personally picked by Matisyahu to perform the song. The young St. Louisan led the crowd in bursts of fresh and raw energy that was contagious to all, including Matisyahu.

The band played mostly that old familiar reggae and dub that we know Matisyahu for, but they also delved deeply into hard rock, electronic and noise to create a spiritual experience. It was clear that Matisyahu was under the spirit as well — smiles abounded and he even faithfully leaped open-armed into the crowd on two occasions during “King Without a Crown.”

To close out the night, he chose the visionary and hopeful tune “One Day” as encore. During the song Matisyahu invited as many people as possible on stage to help him sing and dance. Several fans stood arm-in-arm with Matisyahu singing out the last of the song. The night wrapped up like the end of a feel-good blockbuster that seemed to stick with the crowd well beyond the venue walls.

Next Page →