Was it a testament to Snoop Dogg's market value or to a hunger for '90s nostalgia that there was an hourlong wait to get into the VooDoo Lounge at Harrah's Casino Friday night?
Of course, the wand-equipped security probably had a lot to do with the wait time, but the place was packed. And smoky. And rowdy as hell. By the time I finally got in, around 9:30 (after arriving at 8 and killing time on the casino floor while the line died down), I witnessed security guards gently escorting out a girl for being too wasted to carry on.
Snoop Dogg's strangely named Wonderland High School Tour was a freakin' ruckus. Midway through the second-on-the-bill, damn-near show-stealing set from Method Man & Redman, I ran into an acquaintance who announced, "I already have crazy stories from tonight!"
Actually, it kind of was like a high school party.
Regardless of your age, even if you don't know more than one or two Snoop Dogg songs, chances are you still know his celebrity gangsta persona. His image is ingrained into the American cultural consciousness of the past 20 years like statues of Poseidon to the ancient Greeks: the towering, willowy pimp with the narrow eyes and great big schnoz; that look of simultaneous ease and menace.
His smooth, almost lazy g-funk style, too, is unmistakable. Whereas SoCal contemporary Ice Cube, who performed the same venue just over a year ago, made his name through hard beats and aggressive lyrics, Snoop seems almost incapable of spitting clipped, kevlar-coated verse. He rides it out, a vibe guy, never moving faster than necessary.
Classics like "Gin & Juice" (from Doggystyle), "Who Am I?" (my generation's introduction to Parliament), Dre's "Nuthin' but a G Thang" and newer hits like the Neptunes-produced "Drop It Like It's Hot" and the ridiculously sugary 2007 viral smash "Sensual Seduction" -- these are not songs meant for stoking the fires of rage and consequence.
As a result, any Snoop live performance will have to overcome the chillness of its own material.
On top of this when Snoop finally went on stage Friday night, he and his full band -- drummer, DJ, keyboard player, bassist, guitarist, two other anonymous rappers and finally a retinue of motionless, suit-clad bodyguards who looked like groomsmen from hell -- had to win back a crowd that was palpably unhappy at having been made to wait over an hour following Method and Red's electrifying set. An hour full of loud, boring iPod music through the PA. (Seriously, people were booing.)
What Snoop did provide after the curtain finally raised was a solid, mostly low-simmering hour of slinky beats, cool rhymes and Long Beach grooviness.
A definite high point in the show came when Lady of Rage appeared, seemingly out of gangsta-druid-conjured mists of the past, to perform her early '90s Death Row-produced hit "Afro Puffs."
Like so many pioneering rappers (who don't have the last name N9ne) Dogg's fame is not in the least built on live concerts. If anything, the Wonderland High Tour was probably just a good opportunity for the Doggfather to get out, stretch his legs and piss on a few posts, metaphorically speaking. It was fun but not revelatory, and after about the 18th time Snoop told the crowd to "make some noise," we were about ready for him to make some fucking noise himself.
Method Man and Redman, on the other hand, made some fucking noise. Equipped with a couple of DJs and an arsenal of bangin' East Coast hip-hop tunes, the two veterans brought a sweaty, hyper block party to the stage. Given the time lag between their set and Snoop's, it was almost like two completely different concerts.
In contrast to the Snoop spectasizzle, Method and Red's stripped-down, charismatic, high-energy set was a crowd-hyping riot. If these guys headline a tour through the area soon, I'll be first in line at the door.
P.S. I regret failing to catch opening-opening set from Devin the Dude. If you saw it and did not inhale a mind-wiping amount of chronic over the course of the night, tell me what I missed.