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Rock The Bells feat. Reflection Eternal & more @ First Avenue

Supernatural Rock Bells First Avenue Minneapolis Jon Behm 01

Unless the group is extremely talented with plenty of club anthems to spare, most hip-hop shows I’ve seen seem to be a collaborative effort between the artists on stage and the crowd, with a constant give and take necessary to not only form a temporary, unifying bond but to also raise the energy level of the show. And when that bond doesn’t quite take hold, hip-hop shows tend to suffer and regress into cartoonish parodies of the craft. That was unfortunately the case on this night, as the Rock The Bells Tour stopped in Minneapolis at a quarter full First Avenue. The fuse was never truly lit under the sparse crowd, and the show unfortunately fell flat despite the best efforts of the evenings headliners, Talib Kweli and DJ Hi Tek, performing together as Reflection Eternal once again.

Supernatural Rock Bells First Avenue Minneapolis Jon Behm 02

Pete Rock The Bells First Avenue Minneapolis Jon Behm
[Pete Rock]

The legendary DJ Pete Rock served as the host for the evening, spinning records and hyping the crowd between sets with mostly old-school 80′s and 90′s hip hop cuts. But hearing a guy that has been responsible for producing so many fantastic records over the years simply spinning club bangers to a rather listless crowd made it seem more like he was DJing a wedding reception rather than hosting a hot hip-hop show. He is certainly better than that, and I felt his talents were wasted a bit by the way the event was set up. Also, his constant shout-outs to J Dilla and Baatin (a theme that was repeated throughout the night by all of the artists) turned what should have been a party into something much more somber and subdued.

Slum Village Rock Bells First Avenue Minneapolis Jon Behm 01
[Slum Village]

Detroit’s Slum Village actually impressed me quite a bit with their lively lyrical skills and energetic stage presence. It helped that Rock was behind them dropping massive beats to supplement their rhymes, but they possessed a lyrical dexterity that certainly moved the crowd. But again, they choose to honor former Slum Village members J Dilla and Baatin throughout their set, which was a classy and respectable move, but it brought a noticeable pall over the proceedings that took away from the energy of their performance. What should have been a celebration of their lives and work had more of a mournful quality to it that continued all evening.

Slum Village Rock Bells First Avenue Minneapolis Jon Behm 02
[Slum Village]

Slaughterhouse Rock Bells First Avenue Minneapolis Jon Behm 01

After Pete Rock stepped up to the mic to boast about how many producers he feels he inspired throughout his career and to take an audience poll as to who is the best producer in the game right now (it isn’t Kanye, according to the hostile response from the crowd when his name was mentioned), it was time for Slaughterhouse, a hip-hop supergroup of sorts consisting of Crooked I, Joell Ortiz, Royce Da 5’9″, and Joe Budden. Unless it’s the Wu-Tang Clan, I feel that the more MC’s a group has onstage the worse they sound, as if the rappers themselves don’t have the skills to command the stage enough on their own, so they need back up to make up for what they are lacking. And in the case of Slaughterhouse, my instincts proved correct as they trotted out a bunch of tired hip-hop cliches and very little of their own material during their spiritless set. When you get the biggest cheers of your set during the 10 seconds while you’re covering a B.I.G. track or when you’re talking about the Vikings quarterback situation, then you know you’re in trouble. I didn’t feel their set at all, and it didn’t really help that the floor in front of the stage was relatively empty, so when they were giving Minneapolis shout outs for being true to hip-hop, the words rang slightly false on the sparse and rather lethargic crowd. But the real blame fell on the artists themselves, as Slaughterhouse really gave us an uninspired set.

Slaughterhouse Rock Bells First Avenue Minneapolis Jon Behm 02

Talib Kweli Reflection Eternal First Avenue Minneapolis Jon Behm 01
[Talib Kweli]

The bar was raised quite a bit when Talib Kweli and Hi Tek stepped on stage, as Kweli has the lyrical skills and talent to move the crowd easily on his own, with absolutely no need to fill the stage with hype men to merely echo his words. And Hi-Tek brought the beats that finally got the crowd moving, as the group revisited tracks from the nine year old Train Of Thought release, as well as a few new tracks from their forthcoming album. They kicked things off with an energetic “Down For The Count,” and right from the get go it was obvious that the level of talent had been elevated considerably, as Kweli roamed the stage with an intensity and energy that the small crowd tried in vain to match. “Eternalists” highlighted Kweli’s prodigious talents on the microphone, as he spit his rhymes with a vehemence and assertiveness that had been lacking all night.

Talib Kweli Reflection Eternal First Avenue Minneapolis Jon Behm 03
[Talib Kweli]

The sound for their set was a bit off unfortunately, with a bit of a persistent echo on Kweli’s vocals that plagued most of his performance. But Hi Tek continued to supply innovative beats that kept the set and the crowd moving nicely, especially on tracks like “Too Late,” and “Say Something” from Kweli’s Eardrum record. And the first new song of the night featured an absolutely massive beat (Kweli didn’t share the title, but the chorus featured him repeating “Set It Off” quite a bit) and tight wordplay from Kweli that bodes well for the potency of their forthcoming album. “Hostile Gospel” was far and away the sets highlight, with Kweli absolutely ripping his verses over big beats from Hi Tek. And following that up with Kweli’s verse from Black Star’s “Definition” finally set the night and the crowd off right.

Talib Kweli Reflection Eternal First Avenue Minneapolis Jon Behm 04
[Talib Kweli]

The next part of the set featured some of Hi Tek’s solo efforts from his Hi-Teknology albums, and found the DJ coming up front and joining Kweli on the mic. There was a lively “How We Do It In The ‘Nati” in the mix, and both artists were clearly enjoying this playful part of the set. This jocular nature continued on an all too brief version of Kanye’s “Get Em High,” that found Kweli really turning the crowd out with his familiar verse from the hot track. “The Blast” was next, and even though the energy level in the crowd dropped a bit, Kweli kept the momentum going strong, straight into the second new track of the evening, “Back Again,” which has a much more mellow beat than the other new song, but still featured sharp rhymes from Kweli. “Move Somethin’” found Kweli tiring a bit on the mic, not helped at all by performing one of the weaker tracks from Train Of Thought, and a larger, more enthusiastic crowd might have helped keep the energy level high, but it seemed like the group seemed to be ready for the night to be over at this point. And the obligatory set ending “Get By” suffered as well because of that drop in energy, with Kweli struggling to keep up with his own rhymes, often skipping words and phrases while fighting to stay in time with the beats. It was disappointing to hear such a great song performed so carelessly, but again it seemed the group were ready to call it a night.

Talib Kweli Reflection Eternal First Avenue Minneapolis Jon Behm 02
[Talib Kweli]

So the evening ended up being quite lackluster and bland overall, with flashes of quality and passion from Kweli and Hi Tek (and Slum Village as well), but not enough in the end to make up for the other let downs of the night. The paltry and relatively unenthusiastic crowd certainly had something to do with it, as did the constant tributes/shout outs to J Dilla and Baatin which made for a rather melancholy Saturday night. Better performers would have risen above the subdued setting and mood, but other than most of Kweli’s set, the artists didn’t really make any palpable connection with the crowd and their show suffered for it. I’m certainly interested in hearing what Kweli and Hi Tek end up with on their new record, after rekindling their collaborations after all these years, but I hope next time they play here the crowd shows up (and the ticket prices are lower), and we have a better all around show from all of the artists involved.

[Review by Erik Thompson, photos by Jon Behm.]

Reflection Eternal: Purchase | MySpace | Wikipedia
Slaughterhouse: Purchase | Twitter | MySpace | Wikipedia
Slum Village: Purchase | MySpace | Wikipedia
Pete Rock: Purchase | Official | Twitter | MySpace | Wikipedia

Also: Reflection Eternal “Train of Thought” (Best of the Decade)


    The crowd was stale but that’s how a LOT of hip-hop shows go in the Twin Cities (lame). I asked a couple of girls I knew why they weren’t dancing, “I need to drink more…” sigh, it’s frustrating when you have LEGENDS in the building rockin’ it and people aren’t feeling it?? Doesn’t make any sense.

  • The low turnout is the same thing we saw at the Clipse/Sneaker Pimps show… one of the smallest turnouts I’ve ever seen at First Avenue (though the lack of people on the floor allowed Adam some fantastic shots).

    I don’t know whether everyone’s all hip-hopped-out for the summer after Soundset or if everyone who is going to hip hop shows is under the age of 18…

    Is it the economy, or is it just that $25/$30 is just too much for a hip hop show these days? Isn’t Minneapolis supposed to have one of the most welcoming hip hop scenes in the US?

  • i def think $20-30 is too much for a hip-hop show in Minneapolis, especially for folks over 25 who remember seeing Kweli for like $10 in his prime.

  • No offense to any of the acts on the bill–especially since I wasn’t there to deny/agree with how they sounded/performed–but that’s not a $30 show from where I’m standing.

  • I don’t think that the price tag was too high really – I mean Pete Rock is a living legend and Kweli is one of the best in the game. Still, had I paid that much I would have been dissappointed just due to the fact that the sound sucked and Rock basically didn’t do much but spin other people’s stuff.

    It should be added though that Supernatural was actually quite good though. He worked the small crowd really well and delivered a great set

  • Rumor is that dude has the world’s record for a 9 hour freestyle – straight up insantity

  • They should have had the line up be Slum Village, Slaughterhouse, then SUPERNATURAL, then Kweli and Tek…Supernat would have hyped the crowd like crazy!

    I still danced my ass off regardless of the sound issues…

  • Nice review, I’ve seen Talib a million times, so i felt like I missed absolutely nothing by not being there.

    Great pics too!

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