K’Naan with Paper Tongues and DJ Skee @ The House of Blues Boston 10.13.10
by Aadil Sulaiman, published October 25th 2010
photos by Amanda Zipf and Marissa Santos
Rap and hip hop artists these days have an interesting time balancing the, at times, overproduced sound on their albums and the reality that is their live shows. They make amazing albums with dazzling effects, a plethora of special guests and beautifully crafted raps, and then fall flat on their face when they rehash their entire album off prerecorded beats on their Macbook and try to bolster the sound with theatrics. Such antics tend to come from the richest rappers and hip hop artists who have money to throw on the most expensive producers and the most expensive recording studios. What happens to the rappers that can’t afford it though? Two words: Live bands. Concert-goers rejoice.
This show’s opening acts were Paper Tongues and DJ Skee. Skee did a good job of keeping the crowd entertained between sets with some generally entertaining remixes of every song you’ve ever heard in a night club. Paper Tongues hail from North Carolina with a sound similar to Crash Kings with some Rage Against The Machine-esque raps. The band produced a good set for those interested in their music, but a lot of it felt forced- including the bassist’s insistence on getting up on a box they had brought for the set and jump off while spinning for every chorus- and the lead singer mic-hopping into the crowd to swoon a few women in the third row. Overall, their performances were not particularly bad, and they definitely helped to rile up the crowd for K’Naan’s moving performance.
K’Naan’s last album, Troubadour, was recorded in Bob Marley’s house about three years ago- and he and his band have been touring ever since. The album utilized quite a few special effects and guest appearances by some pretty big names in the industry. (i.e. Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Adam Levine of Maroon 5, and Blackstar/solo MC and actor Mos Def). The most noted song off the album was ‘Wavin’ Flag,’ which was remixed in over 22 different languages and used as the FIFA 2010 theme song. So, how was K’Naan going to pull it all off live? He didn’t. He did it better.
Right off the bat, it was clear this was no normal hip-hop show and the backing band was out to prove it. First on stage were the drummer, guitarist and keyboardist playing a cover of ‘Kashmir’ by Led Zeppelin with no vocal counterpart and no K’Naan in sight. Only as the band began to lay down the groove for ‘ABC’s' did the show really begin, with K’Naan and backup vocalist Rayzak entering the stage to a thumping beat and electrified audience. But how did he pull off the song without a huge amount of backup vocalists (featured on the recorded track’s chorus), a xylophonist, horns, a bassist (a staple in the genre), or Chubb Rock, who has his own verse? Not with a prerecorded rendition, or even any magic tricks. It was with superb energy and some clever electric guitar riffs and drum fills that K’Naan got the job done. It felt like an entirely new song, and with three years of evolution between the tune’s inception and this show, that’s what it needed to be.
The concert continued in a similar manner with notable performances in the anthem ‘Dreamer,’ the genre-bending ‘If Rap Gets Jealous,’ (which the guitarist deserves credit for outperforming Kirk Hammett in) and dance-ready ‘Bang Bang,’ which was probably the only song that sounded close to its album version. The set list was really all of Troubadour plus a few throwbacks. After the hard hitting songs were out of the way, there was an a cappella rendition of ‘Take A Minute’ and a fifteen minute-long rendition of ‘Wavin’ Flag,’ which involved, at one point, the entire audience in the song’s backup vocal.
Speaking of the audience, it was probably the best of any other artists’ I’ve seen, they swayed and danced along as well as provided silence for the spoken poetry solo that was “Somalia.” Even though the House of Blues wasn’t sold out, you really couldn’t tell, especially when the chorus of any song came up and the weight of the crowd nearly overpowered the entire live band sonically. The regular set ended with ‘In The Beginning,’ from K’Naan’s second album, Dusty Foot Philosopher, and its encore carried through two more throwbacks: ‘Smile’ and a performance of ‘Soobax,’ which looked like it would break K’Naan and the audience to tears as it rounded out the night.