May 17 at City Hall Amphitheater was a night filled with smoke and lots of people, who all came to see Lupe Fiasco perform less than a week before the release of his new Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album. A week later I am finally able to get this review finished, and I apologize for that severe time lapse. To be honest, the show happened to be at the tail-end of a slew of events that were being covered for the blog and then I had a birthday and all the while was a little conflicted about how I felt about this show. I am more of a fan of small crowds, unless we are in a festival situation where crowds can disperse. City Hall Amphitheater is vast; there are three levels for a standing audience in the main area, with other side wings on the lower and ground levels. I’m sure you could get lost there if you tried, it’s a maze. But in the end, Lupe Fiasco is a hard-working, young musician and whose devoted fanbase is who I was sharing the evening with - even if it seemed like they were just a bunch of drunk babies and wealthy debutantes. He's a star: of course he was going to draw a massive crowd. And good for him. His unabashedly public display of political views about the Occupy Wallstreet movement and openly expressing his negative opinion of President Obama is commendable, given the respect and grace with which he is able to express those opinions.
Having time to ruminate, I realized this particular review was an ideal time to reconnect with the focus I try to bring to my writing through this abstract idea of "the experience," and more importantly where that experience takes me after it has concluded. I'm not writing here to aggrandize a form of popular entertainment, I'm writing to chronicle the experience and pull out some poignant, journalistic observations so that the context of live music in Denver comes alive. Luckily for you, that context is also somewhat colored by the lens that is provided by my brain, which makes everything less robotic. But, it would be neat to see a little "Concerted Effort" robot at local venues: ideally it would be waterproof for all the spilled drinks and would be able to use stairs.
Obviously being in crowded situations brings you a lot closer to different kinds of people that you normally wouldn’t be close to, kind of like being at a theme park or a parade. There were a lot of DJs. DJ Mu$a was officially billed for the event, but various DJs were doing mic checks, plugging radio stations or had no obvious role other than looking like a DJ and playing music. With so many people in attendance for the main show, I’m sure it’s a security nightmare for the staff.Things were still tame in the City Hall by the time Spoke In Wordz got to the stage. They were very energetic, humble couple of rappers I must say, no brazen bravado like the typical rappers you might see (cough, cough Kanye West, cough). They openly greeted the audience and referred to themselves as “just the warm up;” in general most of the artists were very grateful to be sharing the stage and verbally bowed to Lupe Fiasco for the privilege to do so. I’m not certain, but I’m fairly sure these are larger than normal audiences for some of these local performers.
There’s a narrow smokers grotto type of area along the front of the venue that faces Broadway that also serves as a walkway to get from the right to the left sides of the stage, and so gets extremely clogged with show-goers in-between performances. As the night wears on, this area also becomes a voyeuristic television for the sidewalk folks who can look in on inebriated individuals giving high fives and spilling 7 and 7’s. If you’re like me and don’t want the free-flowing alcohol anywhere near the nice camera you borrowed from work, you probably want to view this scene from the outside for maximum enjoyment. The Foodchain was a gang on stage, in so much that there were atleast seven members up there, and most were wearing sad-faced t-shirts. Maybe it’s more of a expired face because of the “x’s” for eyes. I’m a fan of using the various representations of the smiley face, like Nirvana’s smiley-tongue face and more recently a local band, Scatter Gather, has taken to using the emoticon for their new album. The Foodchain is doing something a little different: they are a local band with four MC’s and a drummer. Similar to Spoke In Wordz, these gentlemen were respectful of the audience and their fellow performers, and didn’t really have any of those typical hip-hop stereotypes to hide behind like giant chains or choice remarks about women or cars.
By the time Pries was taking the stage, City Hall had instantly become a bustling and booming night club. The special VIP sections were filled with tables getting bottle service and staff were busy keeping onlookers behind the velvet rope that sectioned those tables off from the rest of the foot traffic. There was a VIP bar area that was sectioned off, too, and it was complete with diamond-studded men in sunglasses and beautiful blonde women with low-cut dresses. There was a lot of club-appropriate women by now, with the whole evening attire in tow: stilettos, intricate hair curled or pinned or sparkling, fancy cocktail dresses, extended eyelashes, and so on — the list of descriptors could take up this entire review.
While we were waiting for Pries, I did my best to find a place where my short, Mexican stature was not in danger of sharp objects like stilettos or diamonds or drunk college students. Lucky for me, a woman in a burka was in the bottle service area and made some room so I could squeeze in out of harm’s way. Another local musician, Pries is a star rising fast - we have an interview with him care of Early Bird // Night Owl on the blog. He was supported on stage by another MC and performed a long set with no breaks. He did pause momentarily to mention that he liked living in Denver because Colorado has the best weed; no one in attendance that night argued his point.
Finally, the time had come to see the star of the evening. We were at full capacity (at least it felt like it) and City Hall staff had to stay on their toes to make through the final stretch throughout the mayhem of the crowd. I'd say one out of every attendee was exhaling plumes of smoke at this point, and the decibel level had increased in proper ration to the alcohol imbibed by the respective concert-goers. I found an ideal spot by the sound board to look on as Lupe's live band took the stage and started playing "Touch the Sky". So the sound guy is working with some really shiny and expensive looking equipment, and as the bar monkeys notice that I am standing so close, they immediately swarm with their unsteady hands filled with dangerous liquids. We are immediately requested to step away. Confusion erupts as a small fist fight takes place at the bar, a shirt is torn, and what looks like a quart of red Kool-Aid spills from one unfortunate man's face. Either his blood was so thin with alcohol or it was vomit, I was trying not to look. The drunk people scattered as bar staff expedited the exit of a few individuals, and I crept back into the tiny crevice afforded by the sound board. Lupe goes into "Kick, Push" and the nostalgia rushes over me; I remember what I am here for. These songs he sings all had an impact on me at one time in my life, and job my memory better than any photos or journals or conversations could. I clearly remember the carefree summer after my wisdom teeth had been removed, and pain medications left me mostly lazy and worthless. What else was I good for but to pick out some tunes while my best friend picked up his skateboard and we sat in his parents driveway. The live version of the song has a long instrumental part and all the musicians really get into it. When Lupe starts regaling us with the personal lyrics about fellow rappers in "Hop Hop Saved My Life" the night is officially where it needs to be and I am left with only one thing to say: Lupe Fiasco is a great musician and everyone should go see him if you like even one of his songs. You won't be disappointed.