This was my conclusion once Damian Marley took the stage last night at the Beaumont Club with his incredible band, two military-green-clad backup singers and a guy who tirelessly waved a red, gold and green Rastafarian flag at center stage. Though there's no smoking allowed anywhere inside (not owner Bill Nigro's preference, either), fragrant smoke signals went up all over the venue. Instantly, it felt just like the Smokin' Grooves shows from the '90s at Red Rocks in Colorado, and all was right with the world.
That wasn't the case just a few hours earlier, when I stood in the oppressive heat on concrete in high heels (the vertically challenged need every advantage they can get at the Beaumont) with an increasingly frustrated line of fans, some with tickets, some still hoping to purchase theirs at the door. A girl in front of me was like a portrait of patient agony: she sweated through her wrap dress, Bob Marley's printed face splashed across her posterior, and she shifted her weight uncomfortably from foot to foot while glancing at her watch every five minutes. When the venue changed from the Uptown Theater to the Beaumont Club, the time changed too, so the doors were supposed to open at 7:30 rather than 8:30. But we waited from 7:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. without any word as to whether the headliners were even going on. People without tickets weren't sure they'd be able to buy them, people with tickets weren't given any preferential placement in line, and some worried aloud that there wouldn't be time for Marley and Nas to perform since, this being an all-ages show, the venue would be cleared out by 12:30.
Inside, I later learned, the bartenders grumbled over the tips they might have made had the crowd been allowed to come in and cool off inside just an hour or so earlier.
It's not easy to piss off a crowd of reggae fans. To pass the time, I placed an ill-conceived call to the Beaumont box office and left a haughty, entitled-sounding message inquiring as to the cause of the holdup. The previous night, I'd had a similar experience waiting hours for Talib Kweli to arrive at Crossroads KC downtown, and the other promised acts, Pete Rock and Planet Asia, were no-shows. Seeing hip-hop fans jacked with for two nights in a row really bothered me. But I wish someone had handed me a spliff and told me to chill.
Once inside, when the show finally started at 10:45, I instantly regretted my bitchery. The mashup of reggae and hip-hop works as beautifully as chocolate and peanut butter (and might stick together better than Nas and Kelis), and when Nas joined Damian Marley onstage, the vibe was more intoxicating than a parking lot brownie.
After a haunting rendition of "There For You" and other tracks from Marley's Welcome to Jamrock, Nas and Marley joined forces for "Murder She Wrote" and "One Love," Nas cutting into the classics with staccato blasts of rhyme. The pair of backup singers captured the chorus of "If I Ruled the World" almost as well as Lauryn Hill herself.
The live band faded into the background for a set of solo tracks from classic Nas songs, dipping into his first album, Illmatic, and 1999's "I Am..." for DJ Premier-produced "Nas Is Like," and "Hard to Tell." Nas dedicated the latter to Michael Jackson because the track draws its sample from "Human Nature." I lost my voice once he broke into "Made You Look."
Even the most blazed audience member would have predicted that Nas and Marley would save "Welcome to Jamrock" for the end, and the last three songs that the pair performed together made it clear that there'd be no encore. A promoter told the guys manning the sound board to flip on the house lights as soon as the last notes of "Africa Must Wake" had sounded. That's when I realized that my feet were on fire, my shirt was soaked with sweat and my voice was hoarse from screaming. I think this was one of the best shows to come through KC all year (though I'd like to hear from anyone who saw Stevie Wonder last night).
Sorry about that voicemail, Mr. Nigro -- I owe you a pack of smokes.