Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Live Review: De La Soul, Enmore Theatre, Feb 10

I've been to some concerts recently. And even had a good time at a couple, proving there is still life in the old dog yet. Writing about them, however, is another matter, but I did have to ease out the following as a favour to someone.

When De La Soul Is Dead was released in 1991, it was a strident deconstruction of everything that had defined the trio three years earlier on their debut 3 Feet High and Rising. That album saw them at the forefront of a strange new age for hip hop, one that involved fluorescent colours, advocated peace and compassion and had a surreal sense of humour. The daisy age phenomenon allowed De La Soul commercial success, yet some in the rap community deemed them lightweight, hippies, or worst of all, hip hop for white people.

De La Soul Is Dead was a cutting, ironic and relatively dark riposte to all that. It distanced them from the acts who followed their lead and returned them to the less exuberant, more profound territory of the pre-daisy years, with a sound more like Eric B & Rakim than the Jungle Brothers. Twenty years later, they are playing Enmore to pay tribute to this landmark release. The enthusiasm and the heart are all there, but they failed to honour De La Soul Is Dead, preferring instead to tread their well-worn path of dance-happy party music.

These days, De La Soul cruise around the world like the Harlem Globetrotters, performing shows that are more exhibitions of hip hop than anything original. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with that, aside from them being a little one-dimensional in their hell-bent desire to entertain, negating the changes of pace and overlapping samples that make their music so extraordinary. This was one of those typical shows, apart from the absence of Maseo, whose flight was cancelled from the US. Long-time producer Prince Paul filled in on decks.

True, they did play a number of De La Soul Is Dead’s best tracks, with Trugoy and Posdnous careering through ‘A Roller-Skating Jam Named ‘Saturday’’ and ‘Ring Ring Ring’, while 3 Feet High was honoured with ‘Potholes In My Lawn’ and ‘Buddy’. It was a good show, but anyone who came expecting something in the spirit of their fine second album would have seen its message swamped by the deafening sound of a good time.

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