Both at The Fleece
“Versus” is a thing in Hip Hop, because of the adversarial nature of the art: battle raps and dance-offs and DJ competitions began as a way to channel gang rivalry into non-violent competition. More recently, it’s become a (presumably) ironic way to describe a collaboration.
Last month, I saw a couple of Hip Hop shows. So, for this review, I present:Pharoahe Monch vs Dead Prez. Both at The Fleece in Bristol, both in March 2016.
Pharoahe Monch is one of them rap fellas from the US of A.
The Pharoahe Monch gig is on a Friday night, which makes it more appealing than it already would have been. Until the venue make it a lot less appealing by putting it on early, instead of pushing it a bit later so that we can make a night of it. They do this for the now predictable reason that they can have a totally different night on after the show that will bring in a load more paying punters. This is understandable from a commercial point of view, but I personally hate it.
However, even from a purely financial viewpoint, why would the venue/promoter/s not simply put on a half-decent Hip Hop DJ early, before the gig, have the show at a civilised hour, and finish with a couple of hours of a/nother decent Hip Hop DJ/s until late closing? That way, everyone in the place might be inclined to stay and keep buying drinks, and anyone that arrives late (after the live performance) can be charged a small door tax, and everyone can make a night of it.
Instead, it’s done by 10.30, everyone clears out and there’s a totally unrelated night on which will have to start all over again. Not to doubt the diverse musical taste of the Hip Hop heads in the place, but I doubt many will stay for a death metal night. Just a thought.
It doesn’t spoil the show itself, but it could be a much better gig experience for all concerned.
Having met for a warm-up drink next door (it’s the law), we rock up just in time to see Pharoahe Monch take the stage in front of a live band. He introduces them as a jazz band from London, and he’s also got his DJ with him. It’s a pretty tasty set-up, let me tell you.
Monch is a classic band leader, being the focal point without forgetting the importance of the band.
Obviously the place goes off when he drops his biggest hit, Simon Says, and there are plenty of Hip Hop heads in the place familiar with the back catalogue, all the way back to Organised Konfusion, the late 80s/early90s duo of which the Monchster was half.
He also plays Oh No, an absolute belter of a collaboration with Mos Def and the late Nate Dogg. After the obligatory tribute to the deceased singer. RIP, Dogg.
The Lads are lovin it, but we chill near the back, getting involved without getting too rowdy (we are getting old, apparently….)
Regular readers may remember the familiar disappointment of poor sound at Hip Hop gigs. Congratulations to all at The Fleece, because it’s spot on here tonight. We file out, with the initial reviews all positive. It’s 10.30pm.
Dead Prez play on a Tuesday night, which means it’s a proper gig: it starts and finishes at a sensible time, the support is a half-decent Hip Hop DJ, and DP have our full, undivided attention.
Dead Prez are one of the most politically radical Hip Hop groups around. Their first album, Let’s Get Free, was like a manual for street kids to organise, and the frame of reference was mostly Black Nationalist (Black Panthers, Malcolm X), but also took in Sun Tzu and was critical of Gangsta Rap. It’s a jolly good record.
After the obligatory Hi Jinx detour (he’s forgotten the tickets, of course), we get in to the 7 Stars (the pub next door to the Fleece) for the pre-match drinks. A ritual as old as time itself.
On stage, DP are cool and still militant, without saying anything especially confrontational (unlike some of their lyrics). They talk about feminism (“to be honest, it’s cool just to have a Hip Hop show where women can come and not be called ‘bitches’…”) and health (“I’m into running, it’s Fit Hop”; “drink more water – it’s gangsta”). They come across as some cool 60s dudes, like Gil Scott Heron or someone like that. Older and wiser, but still in the struggle. It’s unashamedly political, and stays just on the right side of didactic. And it’s still phat.
It’s a bit of a hits show, as the duo (and their DJ) run through a lot of their first two albums. Which is good for me, because they were great, and I haven’t heard anything they’ve done since.
This night is properly nostalgic; the group mention that they were here, in Bristol, 16 years ago. And it was in this very venue. I know, because I was there. It was one of the first Hip Hop shows I went to, and it had a profound effect on me.
“Everywhere the white man go he bring trouble.”
I remember, leaving that show in 2000, HornBlower commented “Yeah, fine, but what am I supposed to do with that? I mean, I’m white, but I don’t want to cause any trouble, so what do I do?”
“I dunno”, I said, “black up…?”
Unlike the PM night, at this one I am right down the front with The Boys. HiJinx has been lookin forward to this one, being a big fan, especially of Let’s Get Free. So it’s LADSLADSLADS and we’re bouncing with the same enthusiasm as everyone else.
Predictably, when they drop Hip Hop (their “big hit”), the place goes off. You might not know Dead Prez, but if you’ve ever been in a club of any description, you will know the tune. It’s the one that goes “mmmmm-mmm-mmm-mmm-mm-mmmmmmmm….”, you know, with the really fat, buzzy bassline. The chorus goes: “It’s bigger than HIP- HOP-HIP-HOP-HIP-HOP-HIP – its bigger than…” and so on. It’s fucking LARGE.
Again, The Fleece have done us proud on the sound, it’s spot on. (Maybe it’s only the bigger venues that can’t get it right when it’s only turntables and mics…?)
So, the ceiling blows off and everyone loses their shit. There’s a bit of a mosh pit at the front and it all gets nicely rowdy, with all the invading of personal space and “dancing” like people want to hurt each other that goes with it. HJ spends most of the tune trying to protect a woman from all the flailing arms. She thanks him and I think it’s a bit ironic that when the rappers talk about respecting women, everyone cheers, and then gets into a massive bruising mosh, possibly injuring women, straight after. No more than an eyebrow raise ensues, but, y’know….couldn’t help thinking about the Fugazi policy on violent dancing. #respect
VERDICT: Both great sound and good performances, and good times all round. I probably enjoyed DP more, but that’s on me; I got more involved that night. Lesson being: you get more out if you put more in.