Concert Review by Jamie Homer
Brixton Academy, London – 30 September 2006
Tonight at the Academy in Brixton I finally got to see Jurassic 5 (J5) gig live. I have for a long time now, almost since their self titled debut album in 1998, and certainly after 2000’s QUALITY CONTROL and 2002’s POWER IN NUMBERS, been eagerly awaiting the chance to see these guys play live. Tonight is the first of three nights in London and the place is absolutely jam-packed, and free space is at a premium as is a quick queue to the bar. The band is touring Europe after a lengthy stint in the US promoting their long overdue album FEEDBACK. This is J5’s first attempt at both new material and playing live without DJ Cut Chemist and I was curious what this was going to mean to their live sound? Included on FEEDBACK is a track recorded live at Brixton three years back called A DAY AT THE RACES, which to me seemed to encapsulate the very essence of J5’s live sound. It’s full of energy, drive and passion. I hoped that tonight’s show would share the same energy and passion that J5 is renowned for.
For most of us, we tend to think of hip-hop and live hip-hop gig in a certain way, especially when it’s in Brixton, and I wondered as I sat on the Victoria line just what I might be getting myself into. What I actually got rather surprised me, and I think speaks to the following these guys have, both here in the UK and also in the US. If you are 21, attend University and are white, likely you fit this bill. This seemed rather odd to me. While I fit this bill myself, if you overlook an additional 10 years, I honestly felt pretty old tonight as I wandered through the wonderfully historic walls of the Academy eagerly anticipating the start of the show.
I think their following most closely mirrors that of Del tha Funkee Homosapien (best known here for his collaboration with the Gorillaz), which is actually rather ironic as he is first cousin’s with Ice Cube, who is of course one of the founding members of NWA, the pure epitome of hard core gansta rap. Upon further investigation into this phenomenon, and after an additional conversation with DJ Meatsac (my good mate) in New York, J5 is perceived as “college mainstream” within the world of hip hop, but their image still carries respectable weight. They are a far cry from the likes of MF Doom, Greyskull or Rubberoom, who are all pushing the envelope of modern, progressive underground hip-hop, but they have not blown up to the point of top 40’s radio like Jjay-Z and Ludacris, and probably they never will.
At 9pm sharp, Chali 2na, Marc 7, Akil, Zaakir and DJ Nu-Mark took the stage and quickly broke into BACK FOR YOU and JAYOU. If nothing else, these guys have energy and seem rather effortless in their harmony and rhythm. But something seems not quite right to me, and I cannot put my finger on it. Perhaps it’s simply that DJ Cut Chemist is missing, leaving DJ Nu-Mark alone, whereas before they would have worked together. Perhaps its the new material, while four years long overdue, doesn’t quite live up to earlier albums? And then JURASS FINISH FIRST and an old school favourite CONCRETE SCHOOLYARD are played successively and all seems forgotten, and the entire place rocks back and forth and everything that I thought J5 could and ultimately would be is attained.
Another bright spot tonight, also an echo of the J5 days of old, I AM SOMEBODY had its chorus churned back and forth by the 2000 strong audience in a playful manner with Marc 7 and Akil. And then a very pleasant surprise for me, WORK IT OUT is played. Of all the 16 tunes on the new album, this is by far my favourite, and it’s a collaboration with the Dave Mathews Band, who I also greatly respect, and suddenly everything seems and feels all right in my little piece of space in the Academy.
I am happy to have finally seen J5 tonight. The beauty of J5 is that they bring hip-hop back to its days of old, to a time of innocence, pre-gun slinging, hard core gangsta rap that today has become the mainstream. In their own way, they are the true barbershop quartet in the world of hip-hop, and are at their best when they stick to their fundamental sound, when they finish each other’s lines and work themselves up to a wonderful sort of rap harmony.
I think, if totally honest, that something was missing tonight, and from all I have heard, read, and listened, the earlier gigs had more energy and more oomph or more something. It’s nobody’s fault. The crowd was well into it. The band was engaging, interactive, and clearly enjoying their job tonight. Maybe it’s mine, actually, maybe I expected more than was reasonable to expect from a band that is trying to figure out who they are post DJ Cut Chemist. Maybe I am slightly, on some level, bitter that for one of the first times in my life I felt old. But I am not sorry I went. I am not sorry I spent 3.50 GBP per pint. Nor am I sorry for anything really.