Monday, November 8, 2010

Concert Review: Wiz Khalifa, Yelawolf at the Ritz, Ybor

Posted By on Mon, Nov 8, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Sometimes it feels like Pittsburgh’s Wiz Khalifa is more brand name than rapper.  Not a knock on the

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dude, it’s almost the opposite; a testament to the magnetism and presence he exudes from, well, being a rapper in the first place.

[All pictures by Darryl Richardson]

More review and pics after the jump...

Near-permanently bathed in milky haze of high-grade weed smoke, full-tatted, and rail-thin, the dude’s image is un-miss-able after you’ve seen him once.

Then he talks; His lazed-out timbre unwavering, hands animate and slowly-motioned to articulate whatever point he’s making; his rapid-fire, bleated laugh seemingly capable of slicing through the most uncomfortable of interactions.  He’s stuck on chill, or just really high, yet assertive, comfortable, almost welcoming even with a camera in his face, getting asked the bajillionth rote question by the bajillionth rote hip-hop blogger in the bajillionth green room it’s gotta feel like he’s been in this year.

From all the vids like this on YouTube to the, no joke, more than 16,000 tweets Wiz has made since he got a handle, and his reverent branding of fans and posse alike as “Taylors” (from Taylor Allderdice High School he attended) in a vein similar, yet nowhere near as shame-riddled, to ICP’s juggalos; it’s apparent Wiz’s takeover, or his plans of it, extend beyond the foamy walls of the recording booth.  He’s a personality, and while “cult” might be jumping the gun, I think it’s safe to say he’s found a solid demographic.

Naturally, it showed at his sold-out Ritz show on Friday.  Lots of black and yellow Pittsburgh hats sat atop the heads of lots of kids surely not all from Pittsburgh while, ok, I know it’s like standard practice for a concert reviewer to make some clever witticism about the weed smell at weed-friendly artists’ concerts, but man, this stuff like, congealed in the air.  I can’t even describe it, which may actually be a result of breathing in so much … never mind.

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As we walked in, the second opener, Yelawolf [pictured right], was taking the stage.  In spite of sounding like I’m pandering, this guy might’ve been the most captivating opener to any act I’ve seen this year.  Hailing from Alabama, Yelawolf looks something like a tatted-up, mullet-hawked Jim Morrison and raps with a rapid cadence reminiscent of Twista with the tone of the Beastie Boys.  His rhymes hearken the gritty, unstomach-able, realism of Eminem’s earlier tracks while his stage presence looks more like an awesomely deranged cardio routine.  Back and forth, left to right, Yelawolf took hold of the stage and commanded attention for his sadly short 20- minute set.  When you drop the beat to your last song and a big, cool “yeahhhh” emanates from the crowd as opposed to nearly required applause, you’re doing something right.

Wiz’s DJ/hypeman took the stage a few minutes after and spent entirely too long pumping the crowd up for Wiz.  When he finally took the stage, posse in tow, Khalifa broke out into the opening track “B.A.R. (Burn After Rolling)” from his same-titled mix tape.  His verses were cool, articulate, expressive, that is, until his dudes would chime in at the end of each line barking whatever the lyric was.  Posse rap sucks.  There’s never any real contribution from these guys, and well, yeah, it’s nice to bring your crew onstage, giving them mics is just dumb excess.  End rant.

Even so, it was nothing Wiz fell back on.  He knew, and fed, off these tracks; eyes all droopy, sauntering

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around the stage by no means lazily, but smoothly, every mannerism and move reactive to the beat, neither overdramatic nor apathetic.  He played a good mix of hits from his mixtapes including the upbeat “The Thrill” that samples almost the entire length of Empire of the Sun’s “Walking on a Dream”, as well as Kush and Orange Juice’s “Waken Baken” and “In the Cut”.

The sound was huge.  Bass hits made the floor literally shake but never went into the red or drowned out Wiz and co.  Wiz’s energy stayed consistent as the set went on and the posse backed off a bit leaving him to take command.  On day 44 of a 45 day tour, this is commendable.  Even so, it felt a little routine towards the end of the set with Wiz dipping into earlier catalogue tracks like “This Plane” and “Ink My Whole Body”.  There are only so many basses you can cover when your lyrical mainstays are weed, money, women and the self-awesomeness that stems from the three.

He’s not out to change the world, or write lyrical prose for the ages, which, hey, is okay sometimes.  Shit, he’s good relief from all the blowhards trying to do this.  Wiz is the kid who shows up for the class field trip high as a kite, or the guy sharpie-in up the lightweight who passed out with his socks on, and, well, dudes like that, you can’t help but watch.

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