Maybe the spring semester has gotten to the kids in Lawrence - on the block-and-a-half walk from the Granada to the car after Talib Kweli's performance Friday night, there were no fewer than three young drunkens fully laid out on the sidewalk, either on the verge of puking or passing out. It wasn't quite so boozy inside the venue, but the crowd made up for it by its evening-long attempt at the world's largest hotbox. I'll take the hotbox over sloppy drunks just about any day: less potential for collateral damage.
Rewind to the beginning of the show. The crowd had clearly showed up to see the night's star, Talib Kweli, but the openers, including two local rappers backed up by their substantial crews, showcased a lot of local talent out of Lawrence and Kansas City. First up was Lawrence artist Chase Compton, a young, Rob Dyrdek-looking kid whose lines were snap-quick and whose parents were in the audience. I guess the times are a-changing, because I'm pretty sure there will be no age at which I would be comfortable yelling "Who's ready to get fucked up?!" in front of my parents, but whatever.
Next up was B Double E, part of KC rap collective Big Team. A few joints had been making their way around the crowd all evening, but Big Team must have some serious ganja mojo because the smoking picked up in earnest; a couple of joints even made their way onstage. (Aside: Remember when you used to be able to smoke cigarettes indoors? My lungs and non-smoke-reeking clothes are glad those days are long gone, but there was one bonus: Pot smoking used to be a much easier and covert operation. Not that anyone was remotely trying to be inconspicuous here.) B Double E and Big Team were engaging and fun, working through the haze. The growing crowd was particularly responsive to the "Red and Blue KU
" basketball anthem that popped up on the Internet last winter.
Louiz Rip was the final opener, somehow having teleported to Lawrence after another show at the Beaumont Club earlier that night with Atilla. This is the second time I've seen him perform in the last six months, and if you have an opportunity to catch him, grab your joints and go. With some support from Royce Diamond and DJ G Train, Louiz raised the energy levels in the room and hit every mark. He closed with "Joe Average," from the album of the same name, due out shortly.
The irritation at a 30-plus-minute wait between acts was immediately erased when Talib Kweli took the stage. One of the smartest rappers working (the brainy genes apparently run in the family - Kweli's mother and younger brother are professors), Kweli is probably not ever going to have the wide success he deserves in a world where disposable party rap is what sells. But Kweli is no stiff; the fun he has onstage is infectious. And while it may have been the contact high, the crowd was all good moods and smiles. A 7-year-old who had worked his way onstage for Louiz Rip climbed back up for Kweli's set. Kweli stopped the music and asked the kid his name (it was Devin). Kweli began to quiz the ballsy youngster: "Devin, do you know who the Beastie Boys are?" He didn't, and Kweli's DJ busted out a Beasties sample, and Kweli rapped over it. "Devin, do you know who Dre is?" Dre beat, Kweli rap.
Kweli's hourlong set was a mix of his solo material, much of it off Gutter Rainbows
, as well as two songs from the upcoming Prisoner of Conscious
. But the audience couldn't contain itself when Kweli busted out three Black Star songs, on which he either had the crowd fill in on Mos Def's parts or skip his lines altogether. Black Star's only album may have come out in 1998, but those songs may as well have come out yesterday, given how fresh they sounded. Another highlight was "Lonely People," a song that generously and effectively samples the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." Kweli saved one of his best - "Get By" - for last, and then it was time to navigate the human obstacles on the streets of downtown Lawrence.