Although the performers at last night's Gift of Gab show at the Old Rock House had the misfortune of competing against a free (we St. Louisans love that word) Celebrate St. Louis concert at Soldiers Memorial Park, the turnout was respectable. The venue's second floor was closed off, but the main floor and patio provided plenty of space, and the lines at the bar were never unreasonable. Sound was decent, but the much quieter outdoor speakers offered better clarity on the vocals.
Slated for a 9:00 start, show opener Red Zero went on at around 10:15. The recently formed group is comprised of emcees Jonezy and Original Sin, backed by DJ Innovation with Andy Wiedmann and Chris P on guitar and drums, respectively. Their half-hour set showcased an impressive range, from the funk-heavy wah-wah guitar of "Hide Your Face" to the reggae rock-inspired riffs of "Cartel." The vocalists' complimentary styles and tag-team format were slightly reminiscent of golden-era hip-hop, and the live instruments definitely added a nice touch.
DJ Innovation returned to the stage with the Earthworms, filling in for DJ Mahf, who's currently on tour with Steddy P. The local hip-hop group played nearly an hour's worth of high-energy, party-friendly material from their three-album catalog, including "Bottle Full of Bourbon," "Get Up!" and "Waiting." Kama, Mathias and Black Patrick worked the stage well and managed to work up a tremendous response from the modestly sized crowd.
It was close to midnight when the aptly named Gift of Gab took the stage to perform. GoG is known as the outspoken half of the Bay Area duo Blackalicious, but he's also part of the hip-hop supergroup the Mighty Underdogs and has released two solo albums and a mixtape in the past six years. GoG is widely renowned for his insightful lyrics and hyperfast delivery, which, along with his deep voice, give him a West Coast Busta Rhymes kind of feel, though the creativity of his song concepts sets him apart from any further comparisons. I was immediately impressed by his live performance.
Gift of Gab began his set with "Paragraph President," from Blackalicious' 2002 album Blazing Arrow, and proceeded to mix in brand-new songs, possibly from the upcoming Blackalicious album, with his older material. His music is fairly diverse, from the sample-driven vintage sound of Blackalicious tracks like "Reanimation" and "Make You Feel That Way" to the more electronic/experimental style heard on the solo cuts "Escape 2 Mars" and "Lightyears." A couple of GoG's standout tracks on Saturday night were "Deception," from the 1999 Blackalicious LP Nia, and Blazing Arrow's "Chemical Calisthenics."
As far as his stage show was concerned, GoG kept it pretty basic. There were no backup dancers, no hype man, and, as I recall, not even a DJ -- just the MC and his mike. Atypical of his chosen genre, he didn't jump around or pace across the stage, either, but it was a brilliant performance nonetheless. People come to a Gift of Gab show to see raw lyricism, and he delivered in spades. At the end of the night GoG performed a couple verses a cappella, which he spit with the speed of a cattle auctioneer before closing out the concert with a freestyle.