San Francisco Bathhouse
October 10 | Reviewed by Brannavan Gnanalingam

WELLINGTON has had live hip-hop strangled out of it in recent times. Notwithstanding a reasonably vibrant underground scene, recent concerts by some of the bigger acts have fallen through – People Under the Stairs, DJ Shadow, Nas. So when hip-hop big-wigs Blackalicious came to town, the parched crowd seemed eager to lap anything and everything served up. The audience’s sycophantic cries were singeing – the shouting and hooting must have broken noise laws on their own. And Gift of Gab and co didn’t disappoint, the verbal dexterity and celebratory hip-hop that have made Blackalicious feted on full display.

Blackalicious have always had a strong melodic sense and great rhythms and they played some of their catchiest songs – Blazing Arrow’s titular track and ‘First in Flight’ from the same album, or The Craft’s ‘Side to Side’ for example. The menacing ‘Sky is Falling’ was a set highlight too. His back-up singers were having the time oft their life dancing around, but overall interaction was mostly limited to revving the crowd up. There didn’t appear to be a lot of surprise at the adoration that they were receiving from the audience. The band knew how to play the audience too – Gift of Gab taunting and teasing like a kid who knows a secret but won’t tell. And the capacity crowd moved like I’ve never seen a crowd move before in Wellington: in time, thoughtful of each other and without inhibitions. I unfortunately wasn’t sober enough to stay around for the Mighty Underdogs show (but feel free to post below any thoughts on that show).

Blackalicious make the type of hip-hop which isn’t particularly commercial, and despite their major label shift, they’ve managed to retain credibility. Refusing to engage with stereotypes, forced bravado, or denigrating lyrics, their music touches on the origins of hip-hop: simply, people coming together for one big party. And that’s exactly what Blackalicious provided with their performance: this is music at its most utopian.