At Saturday’s sold-out Cinemetropolis Album Release Party, the second of a two-night run at Neumos, Blue Scholars had Seattle hip-hop fans eating out of their proverbial hands, as has been the case at all of the duo’s local shows for the last six years or so. The energetic all ages crowd followed Geo and Sabzi’s lead for nearly an hour and a half as the crew marched through a set list heavy on new material with a few select older favorites.
The opening sets by local MC’s The Good Sin (who performed a selection of tracks from Late, his outstanding collaboration with area producer 10.4 Rog) and Brothers From Another, a talented South End duo who engaged and charmed the crowd to a degree that belied their age (both just finished their freshman years in college), were lively and entertaining, setting the tone for an evening with distinct 2-0-6 connotations.
Blue Scholars took the helm at around 11:30 and, following in the album’s cinematic theme, accompanied their performance with visuals projected onto a screen mounted directly behind the stage. After a brief introduction by Sabzi in which the DJ/producer instructed the crowd to please silence all cells phones and take crying babies to the lobby, the lights dimmed and a classic film reel countdown started on the screen. When it reached zero, Geo took the stage and the two moved straight into new live territory with the first three cuts off Cinemetropolis: the title track, “Hussein” and “Fou Lee.” Unlike many concerts that feature visuals seemingly ambiguous to the actual songs, the ones Blue Scholars used were immediately relevant. A running shot of the parking lot at the MC Foods corner store on Beacon Hill for “Fou Lee” and a virtual trip down University Way for “The Ave,” for example. This was a performance where the inclusion of visuals didn’t distract or take away from the enjoyment of the show.
Much of that was also due, however, to Geo and Sabzi’s monumental stage presence. They have a live presentation that easily sets the standard for local hip-hop acts, and arguably for rap in general. Geo’s delivery is just as clarion in person as it is on the albums and he never ran out of breath as he moved across the stage like a seasoned boxer. Sabzi left his DJ perch often, either to wield and swing his microphone around like a dangerous weapon, or to stage dive (he executed three this evening). Before the show, he’d set a goal to “walk across the audience” to a recessed area in the adjacent wall where there was a ledge to stand on and crown molding to hang from. During the previous night’s performance he didn’t quite make it but tonight during the Thig Nat-assisted “Seijun Suzuki,” he did, and the crowd was far more than appreciative.
The same type of dedication Sabzi displayed in his crowd surfing endeavor is also evident in how fiercely loyal the group stays to its home base. Fans come to Blue Scholars shows to dance, head nod and wave their hands, but they also come to engage in community. The songs that invariably receive the most animated receptions are the Seattle-centric ones like “The Ave” and the instant new favorite from Cinemetropolis, “Slick Watts.” Both were performed tonight and the latter had the entire audience rapping along to Geo’s neighborhood and Sonic player roll calls. Also trending this evening were other typical scenes at Blue Scholars concerts: star-struck adolescents accompanied by parents lurking covertly in the shadows; a gaggle of Asian kids with unabashed pride at who was representing them on stage (Geo is Filipino); and the standard set of partially oblivious scensters like the two blonds who grinded on each other during “Yuri Kochiyama,” one of Blue Scholars’ most impassioned songs about the human rights activist of the same name. No matter; this group has a knack for uniting all types of people in the name of hip-hop and social justice, so getting the blonds at least halfway there was an acceptable compromise.
Many prominent members of Seattle’s hip-hop community stood united at the end of the evening when Blue Scholars was joined on stage by Macklemore, Sol, The Good Sin, and others during the first encore, the requisite posse cut “North By Northwest” which always goes over well with its easy hook and celebratory horn sample. “No Rest For The Weary” closed out the night and this time Geo and Sabzi called people up from the audience to join them, including an elderly gentleman who appeared to be Sabzi’s father (by encore time the clock had wound nearly an hour past midnight and appropriately into Father’s Day). The amiable song about continuing one’s march toward a better future — whether that be through vocation, school, or artwork — resonated well and meaningfully with the mob of kids on stage who looked predictably untroubled by curfews that had passed probably at least two hours ago.
Seijun Suzuki (w/Thig Natural of The Physics)
Oskar Barnack – Oscar Grant
Big Bank Hank
Tommy Chong (w/Macklemore)
North By Northwest (encore w/Macklemore, The Good Sin, Sol, others)
No Rest For The Weary (encore)