"If you're over 21, make some noise!.... And if you're under 21 but you're still getting fucked up, MAKE SOME NOIIIIIIISE!" implored one Mr. Michael Wayne Atha, otherwise known as Yelawolf, the hip-hop pied piper of a younger, mostly male crowd, who would later, at the rapper's prompting, proudly and defiantly shout "We don't give a fuck!" Yelawolf's overarching message to us all -- if there indeed was one -- seemed to be that we need to work hard and stop caring what others think. Oh, and get laid. Sound advice. By the time the third song began, the capacity crowd was all but converted to whatever religion he was pushing.
The show began late by Bluebird standards, with Yelawolf and Boulder native DJ Vajra taking the stage at 10 p.m. Rittz, a refrigerator-sized rapper whose girth and long, frizzy red hair nearly upstaged his impeccable flow, had just finished his set (his underground hit "White Jesus" was a big pleaser).
Yelawolf appeared, bouncing across the stage like he'd just chugged a case of Monster energy drinks (which, by the way, was a show sponsor). "Whistle Dixie" and the better-known "Trunk Muzik" led off the set, showcasing the man's extremely well-honed style, fast, staccato flow that verged on rushing the beat, backdropped by tracks that were melodic and nuanced. The juxtaposition of the two was a little surprising -- you might expect someone with nihilistic lyrics about doing meth and peeing in lakes to have similarly raw, straightforward beats. You'd be wrong with that assumption.
Yelawolf, an Alabama-born rapper who plays up his former drug-dealing, trailer park-living heritage, is a tattooed wonder of boundless enthusiasm. During "Let Me Out," he jumped on top of a four-foot tall amp on wheels. And no fewer than two dozen times did he order everybody to put their motherfucking hands in the air. But while this limitless show energy is one of his greatest assets, it can also prove to be a drawback. After all, how long can a crowd stay in such a lather? The set last night was sorely in need of some dynamics; the excitement needed to ebb and flow. It was like a perpetual orgasm machine: While in theory it may sound great, in practice it gets exhausting.
Yelawolf is a fan of mixing up songs, even if not their delivery. Sampling AC/DC's "Back in Black," Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (in the span of a single track, no less), the former Mr. Atha invoked the spirit of Kid Rock. Both share an affinity for white trashiness and underdoggery, and both apparently have an unabashed love for Skynyrd.
Rittz came out for a couple songs, rapping in flawless double-time on "Growin' Up in the Gutter" (choice line: "...even in suburbia somebody will murder ya"), before disappearing again for Yelawolf's ode to a medley of Beastie Boys classics ("You've Got to Fight for Your Right to Party," "Brass Monkey," "Intergalactic") and Eminem songs. It was an interesting choice that not all rappers like him would make, referencing two of the biggest crossover white rap acts in history.
Soon after this, the strangest part of the show commenced. Yelawolf, dressed in a gray hoodie, camouflage vest and sunglasses, picked the most corpulent fan in attendance to come onstage and dance with him. This woman was large -- so large, in fact, that the stagehand helping her had a remarkably hard time hoisting her up. The crowd erupted in laughter. Then the young, bleached-blonde lady shook her ass as though it was the last time she'd ever shake it.
A smattering of newer and older material came after this. On "White Boy Shit," Yelawolf rapped in an inimitable Southern slang about getting stoned in high school. Soon after came "Pop the Trunk," the superhit that is putting Yelawolf on the map. It was perhaps the most deeply Southern, most heavily country-boy referencing song of the entire set. And with a line that namedrops the 1988 fantasy film Willow, what's not to love?
Personal Bias: Being from Alabama myself, I'm always leery of artists who play up their redneck pedigree. Yelawolf is the real thing, though, and despite the dark lyricism, he's perhaps the Yellowhammer State's best pop culture ambassador right now.
Random Note: DJ Vajra is the best turntablist in the world. It's a fact.
By the Way: Yelawolf announced at last night's gig that Rittz just signed to Strange Music, the same label that is home to Tech N9ne.