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Old 08-19-2007, 06:53 PM
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Rage,Wu-Tang,Coup highlight Rock the Bells

By Jim Harrington
Article Launched: 08/19/2007 03:49:17 PM PDT

Nas was wrong.

The rap star, who sparked a major controversy with the title of last year's "Hip Hop is Dead" CD, would've witnessed a music scene that is hardly in need of life support had he ventured out to the Rock the Bells show on Saturday.

The all-day hip-hop concert drew some 45,000 fans out to a makeshift venue erected at McCovey Cove, right outside AT&T Park in San Francisco. That number made Rock the Bells, by far, the year's biggest hip-hop event in Northern California. Overall, it was the Bay Area's second best-attended concert of 2007 (falling just behind the Police's June gig in Oakland, which drew 46,500).

In Nas' defense, however, the concert's No. 1 selling point was the chance to see the reunited Rage Against the Machine. The influential '90s band, which marked its return to the stage during Southern California's Coachella Valley music festival back in April, is really more of a rock act than a hip-hop troupe.

Take Rage out of the picture and you were still left with a massively impressive lineup of hip-hop stars performing on two stages. The event featured two of the most important bands in rap history - Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan - as well as other big names like Cypress Hill, the Roots, Talib Kweli and Mos Def. The "Yay Area" - particularly the East "Yay" - was also well represented, thanks to appearances by the Coup, Blackalicious and the Hieroglyphics. The local cats delivered some of the best sets of the day. Most
notably, Oakland's the Coup put on a 50-minute set of equally thought-provoking and thrilling music that might have been topped only by headliners Rage Against the Machine.

Led by rapper-lyricist Boots Riley and DJ Pam the Funkstress, the Coup opened with the raucous party number "Everythang" and then turned up the heat with the anthemic "We are the Ones" and the booty-shaker "ShoYaAss."

Unfortunately, the set times for the two stages were such that hip-hop fans had to make some mighty tough decisions. The real backbreaker came around 3:30 p.m. when the Coup was on one stage and the Roots were on the other. The fact that this critic was willing to miss the Roots - one of the best live acts in hip-hop - says a great deal about how good the Coup is in concert.

It's hard to understand why organizers chose to go with conflicting set times, which resulted in having to miss worthwhile acts as well as long breaks where nothing was happening on either stage. By staggering the set times, both of those troublesome issues could have seemingly been eliminated.

As it stood, I only was able to see a bit of Blackalicious - yet another band that knows its way around the stage - so as to catch Public Enemy. Performance-wise, it wasn't a good trade. P.E. simply isn't as good as Blackalicious in 2007 - although it was fun to hear the all-time hip-hop anthem "Fight the Power" and watch current reality TV king, Flava Flav, clown it up on stage. Main rapper Chuck D, by the way, still sounds like the last man you'd want to argue with about, well, anything.

Following a somewhat fun outing by ganja rappers Cypress Hill, who really had no business following Public Enemy, the mighty Wu-Tang Clan took the stage and managed to put on an orderly, professional set.

That's not a given with these guys, as anyone who saw their train wreck of a show at San Francisco's Fillmore a few years back could attest. Just getting these rappers onstage is trouble enough - indeed, the recently released "Rock the Bells" film documentary was basically all about the hassles that came with reuniting the entire Clan for a 2004 performance.

Luckily, the band - minus Ol' Dirty Bastard, who died in late 2004 - did indeed take the stage on Saturday and hit the crowd with still-powerful cuts from such classic albums as 1993's "Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers."

After that, it was all over except for what (seemingly) everyone had been waiting for: Rage Against the Machine.

Sounding even stronger than it did at reunion gig No. 1 down at Coachella, the band raged with a fury that, simply put, no other group has ever been able to generate. The four members - vocalist Zack de la Rocha, guitarist Tom Morello, drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford - made rock 'n' roll feel vital and important again, which is no small task in "American Idol"-centric 2007.

In all, very little has changed for Rage Against the Machine since its '90s heyday. The biggest difference is that Rage's mission - to get listeners to think and act for themselves - is even more important today.

That's the kind of musical message - be it delivered through hip-hop, rock or another vehicle - that hopefully will never die.
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Old 08-22-2007, 12:03 PM
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