Friday, November 20, 2009

Fresh Air Tour - Columbus, Ohio

I've been waiting for the chance to see Brother Ali live since I heard The Undisputed Truth in 2007 and started seeing footage of him performing. So, when the Fresh Air Tour was announced this summer featuring Toki Wright, Evidence (Dilated Peoples), DJ BK-One, and Ali I knew I had to go if it stopped anywhere close to Cincinnati.

Last Saturday, November 14th was the day I had been waiting for for months. I drove up to Columbus with my wife and met some friends for the show. We arrived there about an hour early, expecting to have to deal with some kind of crowd. There wasn't one. We walked into the bar/club to meet our friends, and there were maybe five other patrons there. If it wasn't for some light activity on the stage behind the half-drawn curtain and a poster inside advertising the date of the show I would've thought we were there on the wrong day. We sat there for a while and then I asked the bartender about the will-call where we were supposed to pick up our tickets for the show. It didn't look like there was one, and I was right. There wasn't. There is just a guy that shows up to sit outside and let people in - and he wasn't there yet. She later told me that he wouldn't be there until 9pm....funny, since the show is advertised as beginning at 8pm. That fact though didn't seem to matter to anyone but us, as no one else had even shown up yet.

Now I've noticed that there is a vicious cycle that tends to take place at hip hop concerts - at least the ones I've been to. The show never starts on time...ever. Because they are always behind, people now wait until late to show up. Because people are late to show up, the crowd is not filled out when the artists arrive. So, they don't want to take the stage to a scene of a half-filled venue of people just milling around and talking. It looks bad, and uninspiring. So, the show takes even longer to get going, and the cycle continues.

Shortly after 9pm, the venue owners further displayed their incompetence at hosting events, as they took out a notebook with names, a hand stamp which turned out to be an easily replicated black smudge, and asked everyone in the bar that was staying for the show to step outside and get in line to show their proof of purchase and I.D. or pay for a ticket. There were no tickets, by the way. Needless to say I am now confident of my ability not to pay these idiots next time they hold an event there. Unfortunately, this would take money away from the artits in most cases.

As we sat in the front of the building watching people outside while we waited, in walks Evidence, followed by Toki Wright, followed by Brother Ali. They stood in front of us talking to some people, so I got up from my seat and took the opportunity to meet them. I shook hands with Ali, told him I liked the new album and was excited for the show, and he thanked me for coming out. I also got to meet Evidence. So, that was cool. It's nice when these MCs you admire are approachable and gracious for your support. Everyone, but Ali actually sat at the merch table for a while before the show and during the other sets. BK-One sat there talking with people and selling records and t-shirts until it was time for him to take the stage.

Because my wife is pregnant, we took the opportunity to go up to the balcony they had in the club to view the show with out getting deep into the crowd. Normally, I would've maneuvered as close to the stage as possible and enjoyed it with the other fans. The opening act was Ill Poetic (of Cincy) and Illogic (of Columbus). I've seen these two in Cincy before - both are talented MCs, but after waiting two additional hours for things to get started, I just wanted to hear The Rhymesayers and was kind of annoyed that we'd be waiting even longer.

Once they finished, BK-One (who handled all Rhymesayers' sets) took the stage with Toki Wright. Toki had a tough job. The crowd had filled out by this point, but it wasn't nearly as packed as I thought it would be in there. Toki had to do his best to get the audience into it after a long wait with his songs which many people in attendaence might not have heard before. But, his experience as a hype man, stage presence, and delivery had everyone feeling him quick. Toki performed several songs from his album A Different Mirror (I recommend it to everyone - it's great) and got a great response. But, just as he was wrapping up his set, BK's laptop went dead, halting the show. After almost an hour of waiting, I was about ready to say 'fuck it' and ask for my money back on the way out the door.

Finally, they got things working again and Evidence took the stage with BK behind him to quickly offer an explanation and start his set. I was surprised by how quickly things got back to the same level they were at before. I'm not a big fan of Evidence myself, but there were definitely quite a few people there who were excited to see him. And, the performance he gave was great. He took total command of the crowd as he performed solo and group records including Dilated's Kanye-assisted hit "This Way". And everyone was into it. Especially the bald guy in all black a few rows back from the stage who was dancing and throwing his hands up with everyone else like he belonged in the crowd. It was Brother Ali! I definitely have a new respect for Evidence after seeing him live. I put The Platform on my iPod when I got home (an album I bought in stores years ago, and was kinda disappointed with) to give it another listen.

Next, Toki came back to the stage to introduce Ali. Ali took the stage and apologized for the hold up, before announcing that we were gonna have a party up in there not 'see a show'. He then went right into "The Preacher" from US. Ali obviously had the crowd from the start and his dominating stage presence made it all seem effortless. He was genuinely loving the experience of sharing his music with his fans. He ripped through song after song from US, as well as some notables from his older albums - "Room With A View" and "Forest Whitaker" from Shadows On The Sun, "Truth is", "Uncle Sam Goddamn", "Walking Away", "Take Me Home" from The Undisputed Truth and more.

About halfway through his set with his voice clearly strained from the 40+ shows they had done so far on the tour, Ali left the stage to BK-One who cut up a track from his brazilian-themed hip hop compilation Radio Do Canibal (another great album that I talked about in previous posts). During the performance he had a screen behind him that showed some original videos to go along with the music at times - two memorable ones were for "House Keys" and "Forest Whitaker". The latter was made up of a collection of people (including Ali and his wife) who one by one held a sign in their hands displaying one of their shortcomings, and later turning the sign over to reveal how this fault of theirs is actually a gift that helps make them who they are. Ali performed for well over an hour and gave us all what we were there to see: one of today's best MCs at the top of his game, sharing his life with us in song form. By the end there was also no question in my mind that he brought the right people along with him for this tour - especially BK-One who's passion shows on his face the whole time he is on stage. The Fresh Air Tour in Columbus, despite a few mishaps, kicked ass and is another very memorable hip hop show, uh, party, for me.

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