The first thing I noticed walk-ing into the Colonial Theater for Friday’s Talib Kweli show was a live band featuring keyboards, bass and drums in place of where the DJ would be. This is a suprising sight at a hip-hop show and was the first indication that Kweli was going to deliver something more than a run-of-the-mill rap show.
“How many of you remember the Reflection Eternal album?” Kweli asked the audience, in reference to his groundbreaking collaboration with Hi-Tek. “Whoa, whoa,” he said after the overwhelming response. “Welcome to my attitude, howlin’ at the moon . . . lordy, lordy, lordy, lord.”
This kind of call-and-response went on all night with Kweli dropping out and letting the fans fill the verses. To the Brooklyn rapper, the show wasn’t just about being on stage and performing for a quietly sitting audience. It was about getting everyone involved and making the experience something special for all of them.
On “The Blast,” the live band played over a sample from Boogie Nights along with Mos Def’s “Umi Says.” Kweli led the audience.
Ladies: “Gotta keep on dancing, gotta keep on dancing.”
Kweli: “Fellas show ’em how it’s done.”
Fellas: “Gotta keep on dancing, gotta keep on dancing.”
Toward the end of the first set, Kweli said, “We’re at like a seven. . . . We want to take it to like a 10.” Then he said, “We love hip-hop, right? But we love all music, right?” launching into “Eleanor Rigby” and actually singing it! It seemed like he could feel the room and could tell that not everyone recognized all his tunes, so he threw in something to get everyone on the same page.
The encore turned out to be another whole set of music, starting with Kweli’s verse from Kanye West’s “Get Em High.” This is one of his biggest crossover hits and the crowd filled in most of the chorus without any problem. “You know what I love?” he asked the crowd. “How y’all looove me.” At which point he went into “I Love How You Love Me” off his newest solo album, Gutter Rainbows.
Next was “I Try,” the hit of the night. All the musicians got a chance to really do their thing on this one, with a classically styled hip-hop keyboard solo and then a funky-ass bass solo that dropped into the riff from “Rapper’s Delight,” to which Kweli asked, “Did we just shoot you back?” And the hits kept on coming. “Just To Get By” sounded great with the live keyboard hook and got the whole place soul clapping in time for Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.”
Kweli put on a show that ran the gamut from soul to funk, gospel to rock and hip-hop. He proved he is not a rapper but an MC—a true master of ceremonies.