As the Foodchain played "Young Amsterdam," their anthem to Denver's favorite plant, the thick cloud that hovered near the ceiling of the Bluebird got thicker, and the pungent smell that pervaded the venue got even more pronounced. The band shifted from a sound that was ethereally wistful, though still firmly hip-hop-based, to a reggae-infused rework of "Welcome to Jamrock," then followed that up with "Maneuvers," a hard rock jam constructed around a sample of the Eagle's "Outlaw Man." This is the wild, eclectic ride that is a Foodchain show.
See also: - 9th Wonder on how hip-hop is like applesauce for the pills - Fresh local hip-hop from Foodchain, Spoke In Wordz with Myke Charles and more - The Foodchain pushes its live energy into the studio
"You can never find two or three people to get along with," declared one of the Foodchain's MCs, speaking to the uncommon bond that this band shares, which explains their exceptional chemistry. The engine of the group is their powerful yet precise drummer, who sets the foundation for the three (count 'em, three) synth players who take different roles in creating each song's unique ambience.
And these are no cookie cutter, business as usual jams, either. Each song has a unique progression and a sound which is distinct, but that still fits into the group's cohesive style. The MCs pass verses (figuratively) and blunts (literally) to create an authentic cipher feel. This is a group that manages to take brave steps into relatively uncharted territory while keeping clear roots in traditional, old-school hip-hop, sure to satisfy any sort of rap fan.
9th Wonder's set was essentially divided into two parts. He began his set with a slew of his own produced material, from early fare like the The Minstrel Show's "Slow It Down" from 2005 to the more recent "Band Practice, Pt. 2" from 2011's The Wonder Years, all infused with the signature soul that characterizes 9th Wonder's sound.
For the majority of his time, though, 9th Wonder opted to spin timeless favorites from producers of all kinds. The stoic musician (who must've uttered fewer than thirty words his entire show) said briefly, "This is for all the thirty-plus-year-olds in the building," then launched into what may as well have been called the "9th Wonder's Greatest Hits of the '90s" part of the show.
For the most part, 9th's selections were organized by region, and sometimes by artist; for instance, at one point, 9th Wonder ran through Wu-Tang's "Ice Cream," "Triumph," "Liquid Swords" and "C.R.E.A.M," in order, bookended by Nas and Biggie. He dipped into a little bit of everything, but focused heavily on the two coasts.
Technically, 9th didn't do anything very remarkable, but he demonstrated his thorough knowledge of hip-hop, delivered the right songs to please the crowd and otherwise took in the respect that he's earned over the course of his illustrious career. It wasn't the show the audience probably expected, but it was still fun, and most everyone certainly appreciated 9th Wonder's taste in music.
Before 9th Wonder, Myke Charles and Spoke In Wordz brought energy to a room that desperately needed it. Prior to their opening track, "Raw Shit," a no nonsense declaration of swag, people were sitting on the floor, few people were even nodding their heads and there was just a general tone of indifference. Though Charles and Wordz invigorated the room to a degree, the atmosphere was still very blasé. During "C.L.A.P. (Cars, Ladies and Poetry)", the performers implored the audience to clap, but got little cooperation.
The two MCs played off each other well with very different but complimentary styles. Myke Charles has a varied flow that moves smoothly between new and old-school patterns. Spoke In Wordz is more traditional; he sounds a little like an early Eminem. The two are celebrating their very recently released EP, The Midnight Groove, and most of their material came from that.
One song that didn't was "Four In The Morning," which featured a clever pun -- four in the morning in a foreign land with foreign cars and other foreign luxuries. To close, the two performed "Otis Elliott," a remix of Kanye and Jay-Z's amazing "Otis." It's unfortunate when an audience collectively decides that they're too cool to make a ruckus, but even with the crowd's low energy level, these two, particularly Charles, had energy and charisma to spare.
DJ Chonz, in contrast to 9th Wonder, pulled out the stops to try to get the show pumping. He gave a really great performance, but it was mostly lost on this crowd. He opened with a super funky flip of the Jackson 5's "ABC." "This is too funky to sit down," insisted Chonz to the semi-reclined audience. The DJ showcased his skill with some high-speed scratching and record juggling on Gangstarr's classic "Full Clip," giving a secondhand shout out to the late Big L. He also dipped into Biggie's catalog to appeal to his subdued listeners and finally got a little bit of a reaction with Black Star's "Definition".
J. Carey opened the show to a very thin crowd. The talented singer began with an R&B sensibility. Songs like "Sorry" show his soft side, which is complemented well by his silky smooth voice and powerful, emotional hooks. During verses, he was solid, but he excelled in the choruses, where he had his own voice to play against or join with for an even stronger presence.
As only a singer, J. Carey would be a passable musician, but he's also a very competent rapper with an excellent musical sense. Often, when he could have retreated to his obvious strength in singing for hooks, he provided lyrics very effectively instead, riding his beats' natural peaks and valleys for a much less contrived feel than your typical song.
As his last song, J. Carey performed an ode to the Mile High city. The hook didn't really work in the context of this show. It was a little off-rhythm compared to the rest of his material, though by itself it probably would have been fine. It did, however, provide some killer lines that truly proved Carey's writing ability, most notably a play on Shakespeare: "Lend me your ears before I cut the motherfuckers off."
"It's a cold world," said the singer/rapper before finally walking off the stage. It was a cold show, and he could have had a little more energy, but J. Carey did okay.
Personal Bias: I came in most excited for the Foodchain, but left most excited about Myke Charles.
Random Detail: The Foodchain's outro sounded a lot like Rush with synthesized guitar and bass to match. God, those guys have a diverse style.
By the Way: That some dudes were hollering "Whoo" like idiots when the Foodchain was trying to get a moment of silence for the Sandy Hook victims was borderline infuriating.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.