Monday, August 18, 2008

Rock The Bells 08 - The Beat Down

I got to Shoreline Ampitheater for Rock The Bells 2008 sometime after 3 p.m. Saturday, which meant I missed Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, Jay Electronica, Murs, Wale, and, regrettably, Raekwon and Ghostface. I didn't miss MF Doom because he (or more likely, his imposter) didn't show up.

I did get there in time to see Rakim, which is always a good thing. Alas, it was the last song of his set, but “Juice (Know the Ledge)” sounded great, and Rakim was a fireball of energy on stage.

The late arrival was semi-intentional. Although I hadn't planned on being quite that late, I had already seen most of the previously mentioned artists. And if there's one thing I've learned about rock/rap festivals, they can be looong. So getting there mid-day isn't a bad thing because you still wind up seeing 4 to 5 hours of music.

De La Soul hit the stage after Rakim. Their live set is always fun, familiar stuff, but they never just go through the motions. This marked probably the fifth or sixth time I've seen them, and they took all of the highlights from the previous sets I've seen (throwback mini-mixes, that freeze-frame routine during "Rock Co.Kaine Flow").

Red and Meth came next. Their set is like an adrenaline rush mixed with Red Bull and Vodka chased with Kripy Kreme Donuts and topped off with a Swisher. Meth loves jumping into the crowd.

Red loves making funny faces and being really vulgar on stage. They played their solo hits. The crowd feasted on everything.

I retreated backstage and caught The Pharcyde and Mos Def from the grass area, partly to recoup and partly to meet up with the folks who rolled with me. The Pharcyde reunion was a bit underwhelming, but I was paying only half-attention to their set.

Mos gave a solid, understated show. One thing I love about his set, his DJ always does these really smooth break beat runs, sophisticated polish and swagger. Mos sang and rhymed in his silky slim manner. I kind of missed Kweli though, especially during the Black Star songs.

Nas hit the stage and I got in the press pit for his show, which had the air of a monumental appearance. Seeing him on stage, flipping from talking trash about Fox News to ripping through "New York State of Mind," it was hard hitting and poignant. Nas is at a point in his career where people are listening to and watching his every move, and he seems to know this. He was confident and commanding but poised and humble at once. He's older now, aware of the power his words carry over an audience. It was pretty dope to see him in the moment, controlling the stage.

Finally, the moment arrived for Q-Tip and Tribe to take the stage. The pit was allowed to shoot the first three songs of Q-Tip's solo set and then the firs three of Tribe. Q-Tip hit he stage like a pro, doing "Vivrant Thing" and a few other joints off "Amplified." He did a few from his new album, including a duet with Mos. Tribe showed up, Ali Shaheed on a raised DJ booth, then Tip joined by a healthy-looking Phife and an animated Jarobi. The opening strains to "Bugging Out" dropped, and I pretty much geeked out. These are my heroes, the one act that I can always be rest assured will maintain artistic integrity in hip-hop, so I just stood back and watched. I wanted to enjoy every moment.

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