Smoke Screen

Echo 

Smoke Screen

A week after the September 11 terrorist actions, Tha Dogg Pound's Kurupt found no reason to remove references to the Pentagon and to being "da bomb" from his September 18, show at Hale Arena. Then again, both Kurupt and headliner Snoop Dogg chose not to revise lines that referred to 1993 in the present tense, suggesting that their lyrics, once captured on wax, are permanent record. That's not to say that the rappers on the Puff, Puff Pass tour made no reference to the recent losses -- Snoop called for an oxymoronic "five-second minute of silence," and Tha Liks' DJ E-Swift spun Jimi Hendrix's spectacular rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before introducing his group with another American anthem, the theme song from "Cheers."

Both songs were appropriate because although the attacks still weighed heavily on the minds of performers and fans alike, this concert aimed to help everyone forget their woes, by any substance necessary. From Tech N9ne, who joined the 57th Street Rogue Dog Villains for a rowdy rendition of "Let's Get Fucked Up," to Tha Liks (shortened from Alkoholiks), who used a nearly identical rallying cry, to Snoop, who used his trademark laconic drawl to echo this cheery invitation to overindulge, each artist proposed that the audience drown its sorrows in an unseemly witches' brew: equal parts gin and juice and Hennessey, with suspicious green smoke hovering above the bubbling cauldron. Tha Liks didn't perform "Mary Jane," their classic ode to weed, but marijuana was never far from the lips of the performers, often literally.

Similarly, Tech N9ne remained on the tip of hometown hip-hop heads' tongues, with people calling out his name (being sure to use his standard upward-slanting inflection) during any break in the action. Other than Snoop, Tech earned the most love from the audience, and he repeatedly gave it back, thanking Kansas City for helping his disc Anghellic land at number 59 on the Billboard charts. He rewarded his loyal following with an immensely entertaining set filled with catchy, KC-referencing tunes. "It's Alive," his drum 'n' bass-laced radio single, remains the showstopper, but "This Ring," an intensely personal look at how married life coexists uneasily with fame and touring, becomes more powerful each time he performs it.

Tha Liks' set, other than its disappointing failure to include any of the trio's often-stellar early material, was solid, especially given that the jet-lagged group had recently arrived from New Zealand after a crisis-necessitated longer-than-expected stay. Its new songs, buoyed by complex dance beats and drunken-sing-along choruses, are unquestionably party-starters, but its MCs -- J-Ro in particular -- have sacrificed a bit of the precise lyricism that generated Tha Liks' earlier acclaim.

After some upbeat "gangsta shit" from Daz Dillinger and Kurupt (Dogg Pound associates-turned-successful-solo-artists), the top Dogg took the stage sporting a Chiefs jersey emblazoned with rookie "Snoop" Minnis' name and number. (To his credit, Snoop chose this localized angle instead of merely wearing a promotional shirt for Bones, the upcoming horror film in which he's starring, for which a trailer aired onstage). Unlike Tha Liks, Snoop probed deep into his back catalog, weaving through not only the hits ("Gin and Juice," "What's My Name?") but also relatively obscure album cuts ("Pump Pump," "Serial Killer") and even cameo verses (from dips on Dr. Dre and 2Pac discs) and soundtrack contributions (Deep Cover and Baby Boy). It was an uncommonly well-planned setlist, but Snoop's appeal still comes more from his presence than from his material. Rapping with icy confidence and dancing with a sort of gawky grace, Snoop coolly charmed the crowd. He rapped about gunplay and street drama, but the way he delivered the words made his songs a warm distraction from recent events instead of a disturbing reminder.

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