Thursday, November 16, 2006

Zion I and The Grouch Save The Universe, Rock Out at CSUMB

Zion I and The Grouch would seem to be an appropriate pairing. Both have roots in the Bay Area (Zion was born there, while Grouch is an LA transplant who got his break in Oakland). Both are pretty tall in person (which I think is kind of essential for most good MC's) and both have garnered pretty decent reps as underground rap stalwarts.

So when Zion talked about working with Grouch during his interview with The Beat, I was excited. But watching them last night at CSU-Monterey Bay's University Ballroom, I got a weird sense that the chemistry these guys would seem to have on paper hasn't exactly transferred to the stage.

Now, there were a number of pros and cons to the Wednesday night show: a live crowd was definitely in effect, and both MC's stalked the stage with a workman-like presence that hinted at their wealth of experience. The pair entered the stage to massive applause, easing through a pair of tracks that had a "one-two" chant in the chorus. Really solid stuff, kind of what you'd expect, and the crowd ate it up.

But in watching the show, I got the sense that these guys haven't necessarily developed a rapport on stage. Not that they didn't rock the crowd, but their combined energy didn't match up, it wasn't cohesive enough. Case in point: during the four songs or so following the intro, both MC's seemed to divide the stage in half and stick to the side of the stage they had manned. Rarely did they interact with one another enough to make it look like a completely united front.

That may be due in part to the freshness of the collaboration. The pair have not been performing together as a unit long enough, and this was most evident when they each performed their solo material.

The crowd jumped up in a frenzy when Zion I went into "Bird's Eye View," and got even more rowdy when Grouch busted out "Simple Man." Those two singles were easily recognized by the audience and served as almost comfort food, a way to stay the crowd. I especially loved Zion's rendition of "The Bay," which got the crowd jumping like Kriss Kross (hip-hop crowds do not jump enough at shows these days).

Another obstacle was the venue, which is basically a humongous meeting hall with nice carpeting. The space was good given the crowd size (between 200-300 by my own estimation), but it's so cavernous you can't really connect with the performers. When music performances are held in the ballroom, I get a sense that I'm at a high school dance, not a live show.

The opening acts were all solid. I caught the tail end of Rubicon's set, but I'm determined to catch these guys on their own for a proper review. M7 was on point, delivering straight-forward lyrics about revolution and Chicanismo. A.Lee was a revelation, rocking a large crowd with the verve and style. Living Legends producer/lyricist Bicasso rounded out the opening acts, getting the crowd hype for the main event.

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