Bittersweet Symphony

Yesterday, I made my way with a couple of friends and a blanket, to Deer Lake Park for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s annual Symphony in the Park free concert! Not expecting a huge crowd (as it wasn’t well advertised – I live across the street from the VSO’s headquarters and didn’t hear a thing about it), we made our way a bit late and got to the park just as the performance was starting.

To my surprise the park was overflowing with lawn chairs and blankets spread out past the normal concert bowl area, spilling out past the hot dog and lemonade vendor’s booths. As the entire hilled area was covered in lawn chairs, it didn’t make much sense to try to find a spot where we could squish our blanket as we’d be starting at people’s backs, so we made our way to the back of the field…behind the vendors.

Perfoming popular classics and showtunes, the VSO played for nearly 2 hours, with a brief intermission at the half-way mark. While it was a lovely way to spend an evening, unfortunately, due to the size of the crowd, I heard more people’s conversations than I did of the symphony and I spent the entire time staring at mini donuts (although not a bad thing per se).

I’d definitely recommend attending next year – but would advise to go early. Next year I’m packing a picnic dinner and heading a couple hours before the VSO takes the stage!

I guess live Hip Hop isn’t always bad Hip Hop

As a Nas fanatic, I found myself extremely excited to find out that the hip-hop artist was planning on coming back to my city of Vancouver. The concert was scheduled to be held at Plush Nightclub, with general admission entry. Plush, located downtown next to the Edgewater Casino, is one of the city’s biggest and most visited nightclubs and as such, is often a popular venue for smaller concerts, namely Rap and R&B shows. Though I’m not a fan of general admission entry (i.e. I prefer NOT being squished in between a bunch of sweaty people) and have always been a critic of live rap (from what I’ve seen, it involves a lot of crotch-grabbing and yelling out gibberish), I decided that seeing my favorite rapper live was a once in a lifetime opportunity. So, I grabbed a few buddies who felt the same way and headed out to Plush to see Nas perform.

The show began much later than was initially announced (as is typical with rap concerts). Through entry into the club began at 9 PM, the opening act did not take to the stage until 11:15 PM or so. This opening act was Canablis, a local Fijian rap duo, whose band name is similar to their um…preferred choice of leisure activities. Overall, Canablis were okay…I suppose. Their music is reminiscent of 1990’s G-Funk hip-hop, which features a mellow, synth-heavy sound and lyrics about lowriders and bandanas and such. While I’m not exactly a fan of the genre, I must admit, the beats were quite catchy. The problem is that the beats were also quite loud, to the point where I couldn’t hear a thing the group were saying. However, Canablis are still rookies and overall, did a great job of interacting with the crowd and getting them hyped up for the main act. As well, I appreciated the fact that the chosen opening act was an up and coming local group from Vancouver and I wish them all the best in the future (although I won’t be purchasing any Canablis albums anytime soon).

After another long wait, at approximately 12:20am, Nas finally took to the stage. Though the wait was excruciatingly long, painful and smelly, Nas’s performance, believe it or not, was well worth it. To my surprise, he performed quite a bit of his older material off of Illmatic, an album which hip hop critics consider to be the greatest of all time in the history of the genre. Though he began the show with his latest single “Hip Hop is Dead”, immediately afterwards he playfully asked the crowd if he can “bring it back” to his older stuff. As the crowd erupted in excitement, “N.Y State of Mind” came on and I began to realize that maybe live rap doesn’t ALWAYS suck.

Besides Illmatic, Nas covered a variety of his other older albums from 14+-year career. He did a lot of mainstream stuff off of It was Written, I Am…, God’s Son, Stillmatic and his latest release (at the time) Hip Hop is Dead. He also performed several of his lesser known fan favorites, including few selections off of Nastrodamous and The Firm’s mega-hit “Affirmative Action”. In between each song, Nas talked to the crowd and transitioned like a true veteran, tying each song to the next in a smooth and entertaining way. As well, after Nas finished his set and the crowd demanded an encore, Nas came out and did a solid 20 more minutes of additional material. While Nas did not perform his popular Jay-Z diss “Ether” (a smart move, considering Jay-Z is now his boss), overall, the song list was huge and chalk-full of great material, which appealed to both the mainstream and the not so mainstream listeners.

Though my overall Nas concert experience included a lot of waiting and standing around, I suppose this is the norm for rap shows. However, in terms of Nas’s performance in and of itself, the experience was nothing short of amazing. While I had my doubts about rappers’ abilities to effectively translate recorded material to a live setting, Nas proved me wrong. His performance was clear, exciting, entertaining and memorable: everything a great live show should be. Though I am still skeptical of live rap (namely the young up and comers), Nas taught me that live rap does not necessarily have to be bad rap.