Really big show: Blackalicious plays to full house

Noonish Friday, my buddy buzzes with a question, "Yo, D, you know where to get tickets for the Blackalicious show? Plan9 says they're sold out."

I did know where to get tickets, but the sold out story seemed far-fetched. I've been doing the Charlottesville music thing for almost four years, and I have yet to see a contemporary hip-hop group even come close to selling out before the doors open.

So I called around. Some friends were helping promote the event. "Yeah, I called Plan9 and Satellite Ballroom (the venue hosting the event) and they keep running out," said anonymous promoter #1.

Selling out would seem to be good news, right? Sure, it's good news– if it's true. Problem is, when the sellout rumor begins, people stop looking for tickets, then tickets stop selling, and then the show doesn't sell out. Such rumors are dangerous.

For the rest of the day we waged a small campaign to quell the rumor. But by 10:30pm the show was in fact sold out and the event was closed to the public.

San Francisco Bay area cats Blackalicious and supporting cast (Brooklyn's APSCI) performed to a full house. Now that may not seem so impressive, but after speaking with Gift of Gab in person and finding out that in 35 cities across the U.S., the tour sold out only two venues– and this show was one– I knew that something was stirring.

That something is hunger. I repeat, there's a market for underground and indie music in Charlottesville.

Back to Satellite Ballroom's packed house. APSCI, on records, are a very impressive progressive hip-hop crew. This husband and wife duo mix electronica with rap, singing, and turntablism to create a sound something like post-modern b-boy junglist music. Lyrically they fall in line with the underground aesthetic of cats who make songs about how commercial they are not. Add into that an element of in-tune spiritual rhetoric, and you have a good look at what they're about. They even have a killer video floating around the web right now.

However, the fates were not kind to APSCI at Satellite. The energy of their music was lost in the live arena. The beats, played through laptop, were aggravatingly thin. That tends to be a problem with computer-produced music (great in home system, suckysucky in live system). All in all, the overall presentation of their set was a bit lacking. Maybe it was the full moon, or maybe it just wasn't their night. I prefer them recorded.

Blackalicious, however, came out with a bass-booming window-crashing fury. To begin, DJ/Producer Chief Excel's set-up just looked sweet: a pair of Pioneer CD-DJ 1000's, a pair of Tech1200, and MPC1000. Add a keyboardist and two back-up singers, plus a superhuman emcee, and you have the ingredients of one of the best hip-hop shows to come this year.

Rapper/lyricist Gift of Gab is a large presence on stage (literally and figuratively). When he begins rapping, it's apparent that his brain is as large as his body. Dude can string together phrases in succession like no one I've ever seen. He does it so quickly that it's hard to believe there's space to take a breath.

With Gab in the forefront spraying tongue dart over top of progressive soul with Boogie Down Production bottom end, you have a reason for 600 people to show up and put their money down. Blackalicious ran through all their hits and a number of cuts from their new album, The Craft. The climax of the show came when they dropped into "Deception," a classic cut from their first album, Nia. The entire crowd joined in for the sing-a-long hook. I got chills.

Their formula remains the same: block-rockin' beats and brain-teasing rhymes. Sometimes the simplest equations are the most effective.