Talib Kweli embodied the tried-and-true show-business rule that no matter what, the show must go on. Having seen him live tons of times, I usually come with the premise that if you've seen the Brooklyn MC rock once, you've seen him rock a million times. Last night at Cervantes' was a totally different story.
I arrived at the end of the Chicharones set, and they appeared to have the crowd writhing with pleasure. The place was packed, and in typical Cervantes' ambience, the drinks were good and plenty. It wasn't easy to spot who was in the place, but eventually, several heads from the hip-hop scene made themselves known as Food Chain prepared to take the stage.
Opening up with purple lights and resounding instrumentation from the band, Champ Sound Killa Black played facilitator as the members of Food Chain emerged one by one onto the stage. Hyping up the crowd and proclaiming they were "about to set it off," Mic Coats, F.L. And C-1 made their way to the forefront and did indeed do just that.
A set from Food Chain tends to come with a lot of energy, and from their performance last night, it appeared as though the band has found a way to harness that energy. Led for most of the evening by Champ Sound Killa, each member was able to flex their skills on the microphone. The highlight was the song "Running in Place," with its down beat reggae flavor, and the audience was clearly feeling the vibe, as they turned it all the way up for a medley of cover songs that included Jay-Z's "Show Me What You Got" and also Pharoahe Monch's "Simon Says"
As far as the sound goes, there were moments when there were several audio glitches -- during the demonstration of a cipher, which, by the way, showed off the impressive rhyme skills of F.L. -- and a moment or two where the crowd was louder than the performers, but nothing compared to the problems that plagued Kweli's set.
At first, Kweli came out strong despite the obvious problems -- his vocals bleeding in and out, way too much reverb at the wrong time, and no music in the monitors -- he gave much props to Denver as they attempted to get it together. He even found ways to politely thank and direct the sound man in complete rhythm with the tracks he was performing.
By the time he got to "Hot Thang," though, sound wise, it was more of a hot mess. Never faltering, there were about three songs when he continued rapping with no sound coming from the stage at all.
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A bit frustrated, Kweli never missed a step, though, and used the opportunity to indulge the crowd's fandom by allowing the packed house to scream the lyrics to tracks from Reflection Eternal's Train of Thought and the more recent Revolutions Per Minute.
With a new album dropping in January, Talib debuted a few new songs that were a hit, even though most were unfamiliar to the audience. I noticed that his flow has changed and improved considerably and his charisma was impressive. With such an extensive catalog, Kweli could have easy performed well into the morning, and he definitely put it down for hip-hop in the best way he could.
Kweli is considered one of the most prominent voices amongst those immersed in the roots of hip-hop, and it was a shame that his performance was marred by technical difficulties. Ever the rap purist, though, not even a complete audio breakdown could stop the MC from moving the crowd.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Brooklyn! That's where I'm from. By The Way: DJ Cavem was in the building getting his best "Radio Raheem" on with the boombox and ultra thick gold rope chain. Hip-hop, son! Random Detail: Word up to Talib's trainer. He looks amazing.