Review by Trevor Talley. Photos by Shelley Neuman.
After busting our asses trying to find parking around whatever people were doing downtown last weekend (I heard something about a book festival, whatever that is), my photographer and I finally got to Friday the Talib Kweli show at Mohawk. Before the “co-headliners” G-Eazy and Kweli took the stage, there were two opening acts hailing from our own central Texas, Crew54 and Phranchyze, who were backed by local fixture DJ Kid Slyce. Crew54 threw down hard, getting hugely animated and pounding out verse after verse. Rapper and Crew54 member Masterofself looked particularly ferocious, playing the sweat-drenched wildman to partner G-Christ’s more laid-back style. Phranchyze was also feelin’ the crowd, and he would stomp to the front of the stage and stare out over the crowd like a stone-faced unblinking sentinel between 512-laced rhymes. At one point it looked like the venue wanted him off the stage, but he said “I don’t feel like stopping” and went into a freestyle over the Dead Prez classic, “Hip Hop.”
The first of the headliners was G-Eazy, and he was definitely playing up his innocent white-boy looks on Friday by sporting short, greased back hair and a white button up under a patch-less black letterman’s jacket. Eazy rocked the crowd with his Lil Wayne-esque flow and dynamic beats, and he seemed to especially thrill the legion of female fans that had obviously come just to see him. The highlight of Eazy’s performance was when he asked a clearly thrilled girl from the crowd to come on stage, serenaded her, and then asked her what her name was. Eazy shook his head and said, “She told me her name is Sue. I had a bad experience with a girl named Sue, sorry you got to go,” making her get off stage and leading into his current single “Runaround Sue.” Eazy had some trouble with his set up, which caused his tracks to skip a couple of times, but overall this rising star had an entertaining and refreshingly different set.
After kicking everyone out of the backstage and taking a while to set up the live band, the headliner himself finally burst onto stage, looking fierce in a black cap, black shades and black leather Nike hi-tops, the crowd instantly forgot about comfort and proceeded to freak out. This is Talib’s first tour with a live band, which consisted of a bassist, a drummer, a keyboard/synth player and a DJ/back up vocalist. Kweli’s skills were in perfect form, both as a rhymer and a performer, with him spitting a truly stunning flow and getting the crowd riled up with every track. Kweli seemed a little frustrated with the level of the crowd’s excitement for the first part of the show, eventually saying “I told the band that Austin might be the craziest city we’ve been to” and then asking the crowd to prove him right. By the second half of his set, however, everyone seemed to be into the groove, and he powered through some of his hits such as “Hot Thing,” “Knowledge of Self,” and a solo version of “Definition/Redefinition,” the Black Star track that he is perhaps best known for. Other highlights include an odd version of Eleanor Rigby which he prefaced by saying “This is Austin so you all must have diverse musical tastes. So we’re going to play this one for you,” and to which he admitted not knowing the lyrics. By the time he closed the night out with “Just to Get By,” another modern classic, the crowd was amped to the max and the show ended on a huge high note.
Despite a spectacular performance by the man and his band, however, there were a few discordant moments at the show. Kweli and crew seemed to still be working the kinks out of the live band set-up, and they struggled all night to get the sound guy to get things how they liked it, with Kweli stopping to repeatedly ask for the sound to be fixed. At one point Kweli noticed a fight about to break out in the crowd and actually jumped on top of one of the aggressor, driving him back with his knee and getting up in his face before being dragged back onstage by security. Even considering these few moments of negativity, Kweli is one of the best living artists in the world, and if Friday’s show is any indication, he’s on top of his game right now. If he’s coming to your city and hip-hop is your bag, I recommend buying tickets immediately.
(Talib Kweli performed at Mohawk in Austin on October 21, 2011)