At first, I was sceptical as to how suited hip hop duo Blackalicious would be to the more intimate incarnation of Chevron Festival Gardens, situated at Elizabeth Quay. Surely they would have been more at home in its old, more expansive location near the State Library, I thought. I was quickly and assuredly proven wrong, as both they and POW! Negro provided energetic, explosive performances bursting at the seams with infectious energy.
The night began with the feeling of electricity in the air, as the irrepressible presence of jazz-hip-hop fusion band POW! Negro took to the stage with slick flair. Barefoot lead singer Nelson Mondlane was captivating, clad in stylish, comfy-looking pants, sporting a voice like barbed wire that pleasantly lacerated your mind with free-flowing verses. The most intriguing part of their setup was the inclusion of a saxophone, which added an equal parts sharp and mellow tone to proceedings. This, coupled with some smooth synth, made for an eerie, surreal atmosphere.
When taken alongside Mondlane’s sleek afro and the urban image its members profess, the band wouldn’t be out of place in Hey Arnold!, conjuring up imagery of the seedy underbelly on the dark end of the street. Contrary to the group’s Southbound stint, where, by Mondlane’s own admission, the stage was too large to manoeuvre around without getting fatigued, here he seemed right at home, always on the move, his winning smile drawing the crowd into his bizarre adventure. POW! Negro is a band that has obviously undergone a phenomenal amount of growth in the two months since I last laid eyes and ears upon it. Its masterful combination of flashy movements and thunderous, relentless sonic presence made for an unforgettable opener, blazing a shining trail for the audience to follow into the night.
I didn’t know what to expect from Blackalicious, although I left feeling anything but disappointed. Sporting a green shirt, cool shades and a haircut you could set your watch to, Gift of Gab was the spitting image of Tiger from Tekken, and was just as upwardly mobile. DJ Chief Xcel, the other half of the enigmatic duo, spent the evening behind the turntables, dominating them with assured aplomb, while GoG amped the crowd up to dizzying heights. The pair were joined by two other rappers, creating a dizzyingly robust hour of power. The men rarely came up for air, the most stunning part of their act being their effortless freestyles set against the masterstrokes of Xcel, a true Picasso of turntables.
There was nothing half-hearted about the spectacle sent forth from the stage, as the rappers in arms took many a moment to interact with the crowd: everything from getting them moving to engaging in a luscious bit of call and response. The audience took to the gentlemen like a duck takes to bread given by a good Samaritan; they ate it up hungrily and practically begged for more. The group had one of the most entertaining encore bouts I’ve seen, the members leaving one by one, the red-hat wearing bandmate the last to saunter off. Hilarity ensued when he would stop after a few steps, cupping a hand to his ear, listening to the crowd’s fervent praise, before shaking his head and continuing to nonchalantly trudge off. Eventually he gave in, calling his boys back around for one last hurrah. Signing off with a torrential downpour of blistering lyrics and unhinged instrumentals, Blackalicious left a delicious aftertaste of joy and satisfaction in my ear canals.
All photos by Linda Dunjey