Big Boi, Theophilus London @ Palace Theatre, Melbourne (02/09/2011)
Opening proceedings at Melbourne’s Palace Theatre on Friday night, Theophilus London, an energetic artist from Brooklyn who found fame by being championed through various trend-setting European blogs. With the aid of a DJ and guitarist, London whipped the excitable young crowd into a frenzy, as he energetically danced all over the stage while an almost blinding light display shone from behind him.
London’s music is firmly rooted in the 1980s, most of the songs featuring chunky disco beats that would have been at home on a Grandmaster Flash record, and big, poppy synthesiser-laden choruses that could have come from a Rocky or a Ghostbusters’ soundtrack. Although he raps most of his verses and sings the hooks, the music leans far closer to pop than hip-hop and is more akin to The Rapture than The Roots.
Despite this, one of the highlights of his set came when London’s guitarist was replaced by his cousin Brian, with whom he performed a new song from a forthcoming mixtape. The Big Spender sampling hyphy-club number that ensued was a welcome change of pace, as London and Brian traded fast rap lines reminiscent of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s H.A.M.+ single; the two MCs seeming to be genuinely enjoying themselves.
Perhaps similar to Kanye, whose Ni**az n Paris was played just before he walked onstage, there was something in the way in which London posed and carried himself onstage that made him come across as being quite arrogant. While a bit of attitude can often add to performance, for London this turned nasty when at one point he pulled a guy up onstage from the front row, said something indecipherable about his plaid shirt and started chanting ‘dickhead, dickhead’, before disgustingly telling him to get off the stage. Given that London, who was adorned in tight black jeans, a large glittery sequined shirt, black sunglasses worn indoors and a children’s cowboy hat, has such hate for plaid shirts, let’s hope his stay in Melbourne doesn’t see him try to get a coffee in Brunswick. It was strange and uncomfortable moment in an otherwise decent set.
A short time later and the individuals that make up Big Boi’s band- the DJ, Cutmaster Swiff, a guitarist, drummer, two trumpet players and hype man/back-vocalist BlackOwned C-Bone, from OutKast’s Dungeon Family crew, took their positions. Dressed in military khakis, a big gold chain, a baseball cap and dark sunglasses, Atlanta’s very own Big Boi walked on, grinning to the crowd and with gusto, launched into the first song.
The first half of the set mostly consisted of segueing through OutKast’s back catalogue, treating the crowd to Big Boi’s verse and a chorus of many of the duo’s most popular tracks. These included Rosa Parks, B.O.B, Ms. Jackson and So Fresh and So Clean, while the corresponding film clips were projected on a screen covering the back wall of the stage. Considering that on record, many of the hook lines are handled by Andre 3000, Big Boi and BlackOwned C-Bone handled the choruses very well, albeit with a little help from the excited crowd.
It seemed that the diminutive rapper was keen to get this material out of the way though, and once the crowd was satiated with hits from Southernplayalisticadillacmusik, ATLiens, Aquemini and Stankonia (though notably nothing from OutKast’s most recent album Idlewild ), he was able to shift the focus onto the reason for the current tour; last year’s solo album Sir Lucious Leftfoot, the Son of Chico Dusty.
Sir Lucious Leftfoot has been widely well received since its release, and the album allowed Big Boi to step out of his more lauded bandmate’s shadow (the advertisement for tonight’s show at the venue read ‘the other half of OutKast’, which could easily be read like ‘the other guy from Wham!’), creating a disc packed with potential singles, none of which sounded at all like his famous group. The majority of those songs were included in the live show, and it was here that the live instrumentation seemed to really shine, helping flesh out the thick production of the record. Fo Yo Sorrows, Daddy Fat Sax and You Ain’t No DJ were all highlights of the set, delivered with a consistent amount of energy and enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, for an artist who has made a career out of innovating within the confines of his genre, the entire show was marred by many of the typical elements that too often subtract from the quality of live hip-hop shows. The most important complaint was the sound, which, similar to last month’s Wu-Tang Clan show at Festival Hall, was muffled by boomy mid-range frequencies, making almost all of the lyrics incomprehensible and the music lost beneath the sheer volume of the beats.
It is difficult to understand why this at some stage became the norm for touring hip-hop acts, as it would be deemed completely unacceptable for almost every other genre of music, especially considering the $75 price tag on tonight’s entrance. The albums don’t sound like that, so why should the live performance?
The second unfortunate cliché used in Big Boi’s show, which was again, also used at the Wu-Tang gig, was the bringing up onstage of several scantily clad young females from the crowd who posed and gyrated accordingly. The women were invited up early on and then paraded out for a second time later in the show for the encore. The use of these excited girls as hip-hop stage props struck this reviewer as being somewhat cheap and degrading, and most of all unnecessary. One could hypothesise that it is a way to be able to incorporate back up dancers in your show every night without making your touring budget resemble that of Lady Gaga.
Amidst all of the new material Big Boi dropped Ghettomusik and The Way U Move from 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, which received some of the biggest crowd responses of the night. Kryptonite (I’m On It) from the 2005 compilation _Big Boi Presents…Got Purp? Vol. 2_ also got a run out, and despite being the only slightly obscure track performed, it was an interesting choice as a set closer .
Big Boi and company performed a high energy show, designed to get people moving, and no one onstage at The Palace Theatre could be accused of anything resembling a lacklustre performance. Considering this is an artist who has consistently put out high-quality records for almost two decades though, the show was an underwhelming experience, leaving even this long-term fan feeling slightly indifferent.