Concert goers everywhere understand that great experiences seeing live musicians hinge heavily on the atmosphere. The energy and tone of the venue, and most importantly the interplay between crowd and performer, can make or break the experience.
Hip-hop in particular, whose intrinsic rhythms rely heavily upon the call and response within songs themselves, is particularly beholden to the concept. A flat and subdued audience at a hip-hop show will often result in a flat and sometimes resentful performance from artists. I can’t tell you how many shows with high-energy performers— from The Roots, to Wu-Tang, to A Tribe Called Quest— I’ve been to where the crowd responded to the music like they were listening to Enya. The audiences blaze responses to the energy given has forced early exits from more than a few well known acts.
So when the mighty Mos Def (soon to be “Yaslin”) and Talib Kweli showed up at the Roseland last Friday during their Black Star Tour, I cant say I wasn’t nervous—for the crowd and for Mos and Talib. This concert marked the first time in a long time that the two transformative and cornerstone musicians performed together as Black Star in Portland.
It didn’t take too much time to realize that I had nothing to worry about. First of all, Jay Rock, who handled turntable duty filling in for DJ Hi-Tek (the third of the trio that make up Black Star) sauntered, tentatively onstage to a rousing ovation that shook the theater. I think he was even surprised. Moments later, Mos and Talib followed suit and the roar of the crowd went up so loud as to drown out the first few notes of the Black Star album’s iconic ”Intro” and defacto anthem.
…and it didn’t stop, which is surprising due to the fact that a quick glance of the audience made me think that most of the crowd were barely in middle school when the Black Star album was released in 1998. About halfway thought the show, the audience calmed a bit, struggling to recognize some of the more obscure tracks, but by the time the crew’s scheduled departure came around, the audience livened when it came time to perform the obligatory encore dance. The crowd was handsomely rewarded with several additional songs including Talib Kweli’s 2003 classic “Get By,” which brought my tired, photographing self back up to the main floor to rock it our with my camera for a little while longer.
I’m not sure if it was the recognition of the importance of Black Star’s contribution to hip-hop and music in general that commanded the respect and love that the Portland audience showed the trio that evening. Perhaps this will encourage the performers to speed up production on their much anticipated, but still slightly rumored follow-up album. Portland did our part.