Opening the show was New York rapper Hoodie Allen with RJF taking care of the beats. From the second he took the stage Hoodie was bouncing around the stage, spitting his rhymes at a brisk pace without slurring, mumbling or using any of the other tricks utilized by MCs to add speed to their cadence.
His lyrics were filled with references to pop culture and current events, with lines like "I'm not like Bernie Madoff, I believe that hard work pays off" and he even managed to rhyme UMSL with Rapunzel in his "Missouri Freestyle." Hoodie is a good MC, hitting the scale somewhere between early Beastie Boys and a less geeky MC Chris. There were really only two things that I felt were lacking in his set, both of which really weren't under his control.
My first complaint is about the sound problems that plagued the entire evening from beginning to end, ranging from squealing microphones to overly high midrange and bass coming from the sound system. I was seated in the upper section of the Grand Terrace and found that a large portion of the set was very muddy, with the vocals and samples/sounds getting lost in the mix. At times the bass was overpowering everything else, making the set sound like it was coming from the car of that jerk who drives down your street at one in the morning blasting his window rattling stereo.
The other aspect of the show that I felt wasn't what it could have been was the interaction with the crowd. Hoodie had a few things working against him tonight in that he's relatively unknown in St. Louis and he was separated from the crowd by a fairly significant distance. Despite the fact that most of the audience had no idea who he was and he wasn't getting much feedback from them, Hoodie put on a very energetic show. Judging from what I saw tonight, I'd guess that he would be better suited to a smaller venue where he can interact with the audience and get the crowd moving. When he returns to town, I'll definitely be sure to check him out. I get the feeling that with closer interaction with the crowd, Hoodie Allen would put on one of the top don't-miss shows of the year.
After a short break, Cee Lo Green hit the stage backed by Scarlet Fever, the all-female band he assembled to hit the road in support of his new album The Lady Killer. The band members were dressed as if it were extras in an Austin Powers flick, decked out in gold bodysuits and stiletto heels while Cee Lo took a more casual approach in his apparel. Scarlet Fever did a phenomenal job of keeping the crowd energized bringing a great amount of energy to the songs, which varied between Michael Jackson-style '80s pop, Oingo Boingo-influenced new wave synth rock, and '70s era soul.
Cee Lo was in excellent form tonight, giving each song his all. Many singers with unique voices get pigeonholed to one sound or another, but tonight he proved that regardless of whether he's channeling Marvin Gaye's smooth soul sound, crooning over an acoustic guitar or belting out a Violent Femmes cover, Cee Lo can make it happen. Highlights of his set included a fantastic cover of "Gone Daddy Gone," the uncensored version of his hit single "F**k You", acoustic versions of "It's OK" and "Cry Baby" from his new album and a truly inspired reworking of "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley, his collaboration with Danger Mouse.
The standout moment of the evening occurred during the middle of his set when Scarlet Fever took a short break. Cee Lo asked the audience if they knew where he started, spoke a little about his musical past and asked if he could introduce us to his family. He then proceeded to bring out the other three members of Goodie Mob, namely Khujo, T-Mo and Big Gipp. The four of them ran through two of their classic tunes, "Cell Therapy" and "Soul Food," rhyming in sync and sounding as if they'd never stopped performing together. There were only two microphones to share between the four rappers, so they passed them around between verses as they stalked and danced around the stage. As good as it was seeing Cee Lo perform his solo work, it was even better seeing him back onstage with his old friends performing the music that started his career.
The only thing I felt was disappointing in Cee Lo's set was the fact that the backing vocals, strings and horn parts were recorded on a computer and triggered via keyboard while the band covered the main instruments live. This technique detracted from the show, as the live tunes sound noticeably different from the album from which the parts seemed to have been pulled. It would have been a much richer experience having those parts performed live rather than played through a machine. As with Hoodie Allen's set, there were some issues with sound in the venue, mainly the occasional squeal of microphone feedback and overly high midrange and bass coming through the sound system. The Touhill Performing Arts Center is well known for its great acoustics, so I almost wonder if this was just a matter of the room, which usually hosts classical and jazz ensembles, being ill-suited to a louder and more bass-heavy performance.
But overall, both artists put on a stellar performance and treated the crowd to an evening of great music.