Last night, Brother Ali stopped by Metro (fulfilling a longtime dream in the process, he told the crowd) for one of the final shows of the Fresh Air tour with Evidence, Toki Wright and DJ BK One. The noticeably slimmed-down MC put on an inspired performance, offering songs from his fantastic new LP, "Us," as well as many older selections. Our favorite aspects of the show:
1. The earnest vibe. Many rappers talk about how their music is all about love, but when Ali says it, you actually believe it. This was a guy who just seemed so damn happy to be able to share his stories with the audience for an hour or two. While this earnestness can become a little tiresome on record, it only enhances the live experience. One of the night's most powerful moments came during "Forest Whitaker," which you might call the rapper's theme song. As a video with various people holding signs proclaiming what they didn't like about themselves (e.g., "My smile is crooked," "I have a big belly") played in the background, Ali (who's albino) delivered feel-good lines like "To everyone out there who's a little different / I say damn a magazine, these are God's fingerprints."
2. They came to rap. Don't assume from the above that this was just one big love-fest. The night featured some hardcore lyricism, and, in Ali's case, there was no need for the now-ubiquitous hype man. Through songs like "Blah Blah Blah," political rant "Uncle Sam Goddamn" (updated to call out Obama for not bringing home the troops) and the straight ridiculous boast track "Bad Mufu**er Pt. 2," the rapper proved he can entertain all on his own, and showed why he's the rising star of the Rhymesayers label (challenging Atmosphere for supremacy).
Ali's labelmates acquitted themselves well, too. Evidence (of longtime L.A. group Dilated Peoples) entertained with a set that showcased his lyrical chops and his sense of humor on songs like "The Cold Weather" and "Letyourselfgo," and Toki Wright also impressed with a thunderous, complex rhyming style. BK One, who was behind the decks for the entire three-plus-hour show, got his moments in the spotlight as well, and made us want to hear more from his Brazilian-influenced debut LP, "Radio do Canibal."
3. The awkward dancing. You know it's a truly rockin' show when even the most rhythmically challenged attendees have no qualms about shaking their bodies. And from our vantage point in the balcony, we saw several fans getting into the act, from the guy in the VIP section waving his fist in a vaguely Arsenio-Hall inspired way to a girl doing hula-hoop moves without the hoop. We need more of this at Chicago shows.
Want to find more great shows? Visit Centerstage Chicago for a full calendar of upcoming concerts.