What better conclusion for a nationwide tour then the hometown, amirite?!
Krewella did just that this past Saturday as the Get Wet Tour finished up here in Chicago at a sold-out Aragon Ballroom. And let me tell you, that is some feat.
The first thing we felt when walking in was just how crazy big the fanbase is for this EDM/pop trio that we've seen grow from the beginning. There was a genuine pre-show buzz as fans were erupting at the mere reveal of Krewella's crystal stage set. Minutes later, Jahan, Yasmine, and Rain Man emerged from behind the crystals and the sisters strutted in front for a performance of their current hit single "Live For The Night". I was in front of the diehards in the photo pit between the first row and the stage and could see the "Krew" in full effect. Just picture fans going bananas. That's what we had here. After all, when there's a synchronicity between the energy of the artist and fans, it's a beautiful experience to appreciate. Just see Jahan and Yasmine below...
The group then proceed to their first performance of "Alive" — a remix of the original summer smash hit (which peaked at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100; an amazing feat for a new artist) that set the tone for more remixes you can't hear anywhere else. In fact, that added such a refreshing element to the show for fans of the debut album — that there was a consistent flow of new production that it left us guessing even more what would come next. And quality-wise, none of them fell flat.
Krewella ran through much of the tracks on their Get Wet debut (with all of them even more suitable for a live concert setting) and even dabbled into some of their earliest singles and most recent collab with Nicky Romero "Legacy". The sisters alternated between the stage and behind the DJ booth to deliver it all, working up a sweat to pump up the crowd and still hit the high notes when appropriate. The fans were following suit, seemingly jumping higher with each drop in the beat and the ladies and fellas alike singing every word.
And that last point, to bring it full circle, was what made this concert experience so memorable. Normally at a hip hop show, it's hard enough to get fans to raise one arm up and down. At the Aragon, there are more rock and EDM acts that crowd participation at these shows and at this venue is already naturally higher. So to see the first few rows jumping up and down, and even girls on top of their friends' shoulders was no surprise. But to see the entire floor, including the back rows that were so far away from the stage, moving like what looked like a wave from our vantage point up top backstage was incredible. And this happened from beginning to end, every song. Get a glimpse and see for yourselves above and below — chills.
No doubt every homecoming is special: whether it's you or me returning to our old high school or a newly big-name artist coming back to their hometown. Krewella's at the Aragon Ballroom the other night was truly special for Jahan, Yasmine, Rain Man, us the fans — truly everyone.
**Shoutout to React Presents and the Aragon Ballroom as the perfect scenic venue for Krewella. All photos/GIFs by yours truly.
FINALLY, Krewella is stayin' home for a bonusDJ Set before they start a new leg of the tour in Europe — The Mid tonight, after 10, and only $20. Hope to see you there!
Lately I've had some issues with the lack of production that goes into live shows - be it hip hop or the dangerously vague genre of electronic. From the production of the show, to the lack of rehearsal, or even lack of LIVE performing, artists these days seem to be relying more and more on the hype of their show as opposed to the actual performance itself. And as a result, audiences are left with a half ass performance of rappers mumbling over the actual track being played anyway or DJ's redundantly playing the same "bangers" we've all heard before. And when its over, I, as I'm sure I'm not alone, feel like my friends and I would have had just as much fun at the show as we would have back at someones apartment listening to the artist's album turned up to 11. But then there are artists who don't just show up and play, but present their audience with something more - something genuine. Bonobo is of the latter.
With a full band featuring keys, drums, horns, woodwinds, keys, guitar, electronic production, and vocals, Bonobo sets himself apart from the rest. His show is calculated and masterful in it's presentation of live instrumentation, creating something much more than a typical show would. It was an atmosphere in flux with beautiful lights and sound - a room filled with a captured audience. The crowd was entranced. Had Bonobo led us down a dark alley that night, we would have followed eyes closed, fearless. In fact many... well... never mind.
Halloween night Dizzy Wright stopped in Tempe for his Golden Age Tour to to give a crowd a performance to remember. Opening up was a hip-hop trio out of AZ that goes by Wax Society. Immediately they gave the crowd reasons to get up and jump. They really got this Halloween party started with a new school feel and an old school sound.
Next to hit the stage was Emilio Rojas, NY native, coming out wearing a bullet proof vest (costume) and a ski mask while actually looking pretty dope while doing so. Emilio kept the energy flowing and kept the fans involved with his stage diving and even preformed a song walking through the crowd.
Next Futuristic runs on stage, who is on Dizzy Wright's nationwide tour but also happens to be an AZ native, so right away you could tell he felt at home. Being a very energetic performer, running from each side of the stage to the other, stage diving a few times, and even standing on the fans while spitting a verse got everyone very excited. Lastly, Dizzy Wright headlined and came out and stole the show. The crowd was the most energetic they had been all night, and he had every fan jumping and rapping with him.
Compared to most other artists, Earl Sweatshirt is following a bit of a backwards career arc. In what is now essentially cliche, artists or bands who rocket from obscurity to popularity early in their lives are supposed to have one hot song, maybe even a whole album if they're lucky, tour off its initial strength for a while, try to match that success on their sophomore album, fail miserably, sink into obscurity for several years, and then re-emerge with a comeback tour once their first claim to fame becomes cool again.
Earl, on the other hand, saw his fame balloon at light speed, thanks in small part to the internet, but in large part to his shocking, uncensored, Fox-News-pundit-fodder lyrics and music videos. When you're 16 and you make a rap video wherein you and your friends drink a blender full of drugs and alcohol and then proceed to mutilate each other on skateboards, you are definitely going to attract attention. When the lyrics to said video include references to date rape, underage sex and murder, to name a few questionable topics, you're basically asking Bill O'Reilly to have an on-air aneurism and then insist this is "what's wrong with America."
And maybe he would be right. Earl and his Odd Future affiliates' real talents, in the music media's eyes at least, long remained buried underneath the alleged homophobia and incitement to violence and depravity in their rhymes. This was supposedly why Earl's mother saw it fit to pull him out of school soon before Odd Future was about to strike it big and enroll him in a program for at-risk youth in Samoa for a year. The group's spearhead, Tyler, the Creator, and the rest of the OF crew got massively famous in the meantime, and when Earl returned in the beginning of last year, he came as the long-lost hero who would save rap music. That's a lot for anyone to handle, let alone an 18-year-old.
Now, a little over a year since "going missing," Earl is on his comeback tour, and he seems like he couldn't be happier. That's unsurprising considering the huge fanbase that Odd Future has built up since his departure. I arrived at the Metro at 7:00, which was when the show was supposed to start. I figured there would be a decent crowd there already but nothing too huge - every rap show I've been to before included several openers and lots of waiting. Much to my surprise, I waited over an hour for anything to happen on stage, and pretty much the entire floor was packed when I arrived. When things did start happening, though, this turned into one of the most fun rap shows I've been to.
I've always thought Earl was probably the most talented member of Odd Future. I like how he draws obvious influence from Wu-Tang and MF DOOM in his flow, but also is very much his own man. When he returned to the States, I was excited for what lie ahead, and so far it's been everything I had hoped for. He ditched the murder and rape stuff in his lyrics (mostly) and adopted a much more honest and heartfelt tone. He's also made the rounds with big shots like Flying Lotus and even DOOM himself on a recently released track. His second album, "Doris," was released this summer to much acclaim. With all this already under his belt, there's no doubt he will soon become something of a legend in hip-hop.
His skill as a showman is not quite so refined, but the Metro crowd hardly cared. OF member Taco kicked things off for Earl, playing one trap banger after another. When Earl finally took the stage with Vince Staples, the house was nearly brought down. Earl was clearly taken aback by the unrelenting energy of the crowd, and remained characteristically reserved but definitely overwhelmed at the sight of people losing their minds to his music. He seemed to be concentrating hard throughout the show, maybe a little too much. A little bit more swagger on his part could go a long way towards his stage presence, but he was rocking with it nonetheless. Maybe it was because his mom was in the crowd, whom he introduced towards the end of the show. She seemed ecstatic to be there and was even dancing a little bit. Who says Odd Future isn't family friendly?
Earl Sweatshirt & Vince Staples
Just about every song Earl knew was played, which he mentioned at the end when announcing his last song ("I've only made like 20 songs my whole life, I just did all of them.") Highlights included the famed OF remix of "Orange Juice," "EARL," and just about anything off his new album. Vince Staples held his own as well, with the two going off on a cappella freestyle tangents frequently and skillfully.
All told, it was a sign of great things to come for the only 19-years-old artist. As he matures, so too will his music and aesthetic (hopefully), and that is great news for hip-hop fans.
The Weeknd, bloodied by the lights, at Chicago Theatre 10.14.13
Since his release of House of Balloons in 2011, The Weeknd has become one of my favorite R&B singers and most-played artists. His mix of piercing productions with a soft, high voice that can reach MJ pitches sets him apart from the game, and doubles as great working music for the late night grind.
Last night was night two of two in Weeknd's back-to-back run at the Chicago Theatre for the Kiss Land Tour — a testament to the growth the Toronto singer has seen in the past two and a half years. I was looking forward to checking out The Weeknd for the first time live, at one of my favorite venues nonetheless, to primarily hear how the monumental sound he, DannyBoyStyles, and Jason "DaHeala" Quenneville have developed would translate with their three-piece band. I had no doubt it would be a powerful experience — and indeed it was.
The Weeknd kicked off his set with "Adaptation", one of his most engaging lyrical records off Kiss Land, which was then a smooth blend into "Love In The Sky". Both were great appetizers to the first "wow" moment of the aforementioned monumental sound live: "Belong To The World". After the chilling thunderstorm intro, the Portishead-sampled drums pulsated at max. volume and combined with the reveal of The Weeknd's set — a series of over a handful of video screens that displayed neon signs in Japanese akin to the packaging of Kiss Land. I instantly felt the stage was now a city, especially as the signs popped up throughout the show and animated like video advertisements would in Tokyo (I'd imagine) or certainly Times Square.
My favorite part of the beat in "The Town" — just a sense of its big sound live.
After another "wow" moment of the breakdown in "The Town" (one of my favorite productions, in general, this year), The Weeknd kicked off the middle third of his set with classic cuts from House of Balloons. My favorite of those — the title track — featured its own twist on the transition to "Glass Table Girls" and had that same lively jump I was searching for in experiencing the music live. Shortly thereafter, however, is where I'd tab the one critique I had of the show. With the magnificent visuals from the video screens (and a curtain/silhouette draped over Weeknd for "Adaptation" that I failed to mention earlier) setting the tone, seeing The Weeknd perform these fan favorites lost a little luster with little to no visuals behind him and the band. Given the grainy, black and white theme of that project, some changes to the lights (all greyscale) and visuals similar to his music videos could have matched the monumental feel set prior.
Weeknd quickly quelled any disappointment I had in the visual presentation with a first: performing in front of a lesbian sex scene. As the "Kiss Land" title track progressed and kicked off the latter third of new hits, Weeknd simply sang at center stage as two asian girls made love to each other on the multiple video screens behind him. There was certainly an aura of shock and awe amongst the crowd mixed in with the continued vibe to the record. No doubt it was positively received and no doubt many of us were watching the video screens, rather than The Weeknd. Ha!
The set wound down on a high note, literally, as the crowd matched Weeknd's high notes on "Crew Love". No extra visuals needed for that one; there was just The Weeknd, the crowd, and the chills in the air. Next, Weeknd dedicated "Pretty" to Chicago (in the same talking voice as MJ, no less #Analysis) and drove that home by projecting himself singing it on the big screens behind him. After a fiery performance of "Wanderlust", Weeknd exited stage right, but no one in the crowd moved. In fact, the crowd started a college-style chant "We want more!" and The Weeknd and his band emerged from the darkness for an encore performance of "Wicked Games".
Things I've learned:
- The Weeknd's sound translates even more powerful than you'd expect live.
- His vocals too, he can hit the high notes like you hear on the tracks.
- The Weeknd is unabashedly pushing the envelope and his cutting-edge brand forward with a live presentation perfect for big venues. Up next: stadiums.
- In hindsight, especially knowing the artist and his attention to presentation in this case, I'm happy this was my first live experience of The Weeknd, in a venue as quality and large as the Chicago Theatre. His smaller show, without the visuals, at his previous stops in the Chi at Lincoln Hall and the LQ audio at the Congress Theater would not have done justice to the progressive sound The Weeknd continues to build on. I'll be riding out Kiss Land for some time as The Weeknd will undoubtedly build on the music and the tour. Given the detail and precise set last night, we'll definitely be in for something new next time.
The scene moments after The Weeknd outside the Chicago Theatre | Photos by: Sgt. Tibs
Friday night, Chicago's biggest house party was at the UIC Pavilion, where Waka Flocka, Borgore, Pharrell, and Steve Aoki kicked off the Aokify America tour. Though diverse in genre, all four acts seemed to draw the same, high energy crowd which made for a good ol' fashioned rager.
Crowd surfing >
Waka Flocka towered over the crowd, dreads swingin,' yell'n "squad."
Waka Flocka smokes the crowd
Borgore kept the crowd jumpin' and chanting "cake."
Pharrell... Pharrell took the stage smooth as you'd think he would and brought the funk for a lil while.
And ultimately, Steve Aoki, notorious for throwing a hell of a party, threw a cake in your face, crowd rafting, co2 blasting par-tee. Yes at least three - willing, mind you - people took cakes to the dome while Aoki danced about the stage like he was an eight year old high as hell off some bite size snickers. Don't get me wrong, as would I. Someone just beg's for you to throw cake at their face? That's gong show. Sign me up, Steve.
Look closely, Steve Aoki is throwing cake at a fan, and it's pretty great.
From beginning to end, the party never stopped, and the artists supported each other along the way. Waka came out during Borgore's set (lookin forward to their collab), and everyone stood by the stage to see one another perform. The unique billing of this tour is sure to bring fans of both hip hop and edm together in a way rarely seen before, a trend we hope to see continue moving forward.
The banner that hung behind the stage featured both headlining artists, with Immortal Technique on the left ("War") side, and Ali on the right ("Peace"). I assume this placement was no accident, and not only because Technique seemed to be holding an assault rifle in his picture, and Ali looked like a hip-hop monk, per usual. The lyrical content of both artists' songs reinforces this dichotomy. Technique is decidedly political. His songs remind us of the injustices that exist not only within the government, but to an extent hip hop culture at large, which has been equally obsessed with money, power and violence, perhaps more now than ever. Technique is far from a reactionary though; despite his incendiary music, he believes in peace, understanding and unity above all, and this comes through in his music as well as the numerous political corollaries he would launch into between songs. Opener I Self Divine and host Poison Pen, too, made frequent digressions into mini sermons against violence and oppression throughout their sets, which I imagine would normally come off as annoying or depressing at most rap shows, but here were truly moving and heartfelt. Each rapper made at least a couple references to the violence that has plagued the city of Chicago lately, with the recent Back of the Yards mass shooting, in particular, no doubt on their minds. Poison Pen at one point told everyone "to get home safe tonight. I'm gonna get ig'nant with this song now, cuz that's what I do, but I just wanna tell everyone that."
It was actually unnerving to hear him say that, a message of warning coming from a native of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, a neghborhood that just 20 years ago was equally notorious for crime as the South Side is today. The show, of course, was far from harm's way, so to speak, only a stone's throw from Wrigley Field and Lincoln Park, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the United States. I had no doubt in my mind that I would walk home (~10 minutes away) from that show, alone, around midnight, and have no problems. I am incredibly lucky for this. The music at the show reinforced this knowledge for me, and each of the performers repeatedly emphasized that we, the audience, could not lay down and let people perpetuate these injustices.
Brother Ali was more on the side of personal acceptance. He implied that this is important for him personally, being a self-professed "ugly motherfucker." One of his most popular songs - and the one he also closed with - "Forest Whitiker," embodies the inner struggle of finding peace with a world at war with itself. He goes on about being albino and lazy-eyed, "hairy as hell, everywhere but fingernails," "not the classic profile of what the ladies want." As he admits in the song, "You might think I'm depressed as can be, but when I look in the mirror I see sexy-ass me." It's this kind of optimism that the rap world is sorely lacking, and the kind of message that on the surface seems more productive than that of most other rap songs.
So then, I wonder, what are we doing still rapping about guns and drugs? Can rappers, in good conscience, still rap about the "ig'nant shit" even if their heart is in the right place? Can they even rap about social revolution when the last thing we need is another war? As the good Jay-Z said, it's only entertainment. But is it really, when we talk about murder nonchalantly and then see the effects of that "IDGAF" mentality on a massive scale, in the form of the violence in South Chicago and elsewhere? And when it's reversed, essentially, as in Technique's music, to violence for justice, is it any different?
Don't get me wrong, the overall message from the show was certainly one of positivity and understanding. It is this sort of cognitive dissonance, a feeling all too familiar to the modern rap fan, that is constructive and dialogue-promoting. The "War and Peace" tour, at least the 4 hours I saw of it, seemed to represent the beginnings of this conversation. Hip hop culture has been in the midst of a turning point for years now - the old guard of the gangster mentality has given way to politcal consciousness and broad=spectrum tolerance. And it may indeed be coming from Immortal Technique, Brother Ali and artists like them, who push us to see beyond convention. The beats were really good, too.
"The number one question people always ask me: what was it like comin' out of high school? Second question: whatever happened to Ronnie Fields?"
- Kevin Garnett
Ronnie Fields was a Chicago basketball legend in the mid 90s... as a high schooler at Farragut on the city's south side. To give a modern day analogy: think Derrick Rose at Simeon kind of hype... multiplied. And for good reason. After all, future hall-of-famer Kevin Garnett still gets asked about his Farragut teammate to this day.
Fields and KG were the talk of Chicago basketball in 1994-95, stealing the spotlight from the three peat of the Bulls as Michael Jordan was in Birmingham taking his swing at baseball. Garnett moved from his hometown in South Carolina to Chicago to play against tougher ball players, and play with Ronnie Fields. If that doesn't speak volumes to Ronnie Fields, how about this: Fields jumped over defenders for a dunk before Vince Carter famously did the same on the Olympic stage. Watch that incredible highlight, and first get acclimated with Bounce Back in the trailer below.
Bounce Back: The Story of Ronnie Fields [Full Trailer]
A Documentary by: Ryan Mayers & Thatcher Kamin (Taste Media Group)
A couple of weeks ago I attended the Bounce Back premiere and found out the answer to that question KG always gets asked: whatever happened to Ronnie Fields?
The documentary unfolds to that answer by first doing justice to how much Ronnie was revered in Chicago as a high school star. The highlights and interviews really show that Ronnie had all the makings of a future NBA star. An unfortunate car accident, however, left Ronnie with a broken neck at the end of his senior season and thus began his digression from the path to the NBA star everyone thought was a certainty.
As Fields was recovering, he couldn't get the grades up to be accepted at DePaul University and play D1 ball, and then he got caught in a sexual misconduct case; both events tarnished his reputation on top of the injury. But, as the title suggests, Fields bounced back. He played professionally in the CBA and overseas for over 10 years and became a charitable figure in those locations (often donating entire wardrobes to the needy) and a motivational speaker after retirement.
As Scoop Jackson so poignantly said in the documentary, the best thing that ever happened to Ronnie was not making the league. Ronnie himself agreed with that in the Q&A after the film. The way his path was illustrated in the film... it's just flat out inspiring to see how much good he's done for others and how he still made a career of doing what he loves.
A few more takeaways:
- An especially emotional and candid Kevin Garnett. KG doesn't do interviews, yet opened up about his former teammate Ronnie Fields, as personified in the trailer with his confusion that Ronnie never got a shot at the NBA. Producer Thatcher Kamin told me that their interview with Garnett could have been its own documentary. (Need an extended verson!)
- The documentary's soundtrack is entirely Gemstones, who is a fitting parallel to Ronnie Fields as he's bounced back and transformed himself as a person and throughout his music career. Gem performed an original track "Ronnie Fields" LIVE as the film was rolling its end credits.
- The documentary happened in the first place because of a successful Kickstarter campaign by the film's director and producer Ryan Mayers & Thatcher Kamin. Great to see the people behind this, as the money was used to officially use NBA and other footage that helped give the documentary its authentic feel.
- Meeting Ronnie and seeing his gracious personality first-hand. He stayed after the film for over an hour signing autographs and talking with friends, family, and fans.
- Chatting with Red Eye sports writer Jack Silverstein (whose interview with Fields is a great read) provided more insight on who Ronnie is with his experience. Jack also put in perspective more stories from the 90s, which, as talking with people after the film, I found out that everybody has a Ronnie Fields story if they saw him at Farragut. It's amazing to see the impact he has had on everyone in Chicago, and now, the whole world can feel that too with the new #BounceBack documentary.
A must-see for any basketball fan and even if you're not.
I gotta be honest and say I can’t think of an artist in the past few years that really made me want to listen to the same tracks “over and over again and need more”. Chance the Rapper is the DAMN TRUTH. I’m not going to go over every track and all that in this review. It’s alot easier to explain it this way. I’m the type of guy that HATES the typical “rap”. Rhymes about hoes, guns, money, drinks, etc. I want to hear an artist reveal themselves, and what they’ve been thru in a creative way. If all you’ve done is “bang bitches, and shoot people”, yea that’s “real” but I just don’t relate to it personally. It’s dope for a club but it won’t connect with me on that level.
Chance reminds me of how I want my radio to be remembered. “Different”, and “Evokes Emotion”. His signature yelp is catchy. But, it’s his music that infuses singing, instruments, raps, and the way he assembles his songs are just raw. To be honest, it comes off like he’s freestylin his music. Meaning, he’s having fun and not everything needs to sound perfect cause he’s just being him. Music about drugs, his suspension, missing Prom Night, his relationship with this Dad, his friends. I get and relate to all of it. I truly regret not catching both shows this weekend.
Both shows sold out in less than 1 hour did ya know that? Every single kid knew every word, and the range of emotions were all over from “turnt up shit”, to artistic chill poetic rhymes that make you think “WTF”. If you were at the show big Shout to the “Turn Up Turnips”! Hilarious!
Chance the Rapper is that dude in a year where we all say “I remember when he performed at Reggies or Jugrnaut”. As we see him on MTV Cribs or some show like that.
As Memorial Weekend comes to an end I got a chance to see some great shows at the Metro.
This past Friday Juicy J, and A$AP Ferg performed live. I had to host a party at Big City Tap down the street so it kinda sucks I had to leave early. I only got a chance to catch 15 min of Juicy but caught all of A$AP. Here’s my .02 just as a listener.
A$AP comes out of the A$AP Mob of course. I’m really not super familiar with his music to be honest. Maybe because when you think anything A$AP you think Rocky. For some reason I was never curious to check any of his other crew. But, I think thats a good thing cause when I see an artist I judge them if they make me feel something. I listen to the lyrics, and how they interact with the audience. So, what I saw that night was 2 dudes dressed in light blue Pyrex hoodies and shorts rush the stage. Tons of energy and stage diving was the constant theme. I loved that. But, I just wasn’t really vibing the music. It was alot of the track playing in the background so it was hard to hear his voice on top of the music. The hype for me wasn’t really the tracks he performed but more the energy they brought onstage. In short for me it was more hype than vocal ability, and artistic presence.
Juicy J took the stage shortly after, and kicked it off with some bangers like “Show Out”. His presence is super dope. He doesn’t go insane and stage dive but it’s hard to explain. He just reads the crowd well and his little catch phrases we follow. He did “Codeine Cups”, and the crowd as expected knew every word. Juicy’s the type of artist I can watch and rock out to, but at the same time, totally just chill and listen to without being bored. His live performances are pretty entertaining. Maybe it’s all the damn “We Trippy Mane” shirts, or “Turnt Up” hats I see everywhere. Or, maybe it’s his constant love for strippers and strip clubs LOL.