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After months of eager anticipation and an all day battle with the London Underground (a reminder of the perils of living in our nation’s capital), last Saturday night heralded my first experience of Pete Rock live. The scope for disappointment in this particular case was massive: The Chocolate Boy Wonder is without a doubt one of my favourite recording artists of all time, and I have rarely, if ever, felt as excited about a gig. Would it live up to expectation, or would I walk away feel cheated? Let’s find out…
Rather expectedly, there’s a hell of a lot of good things to report. With doors opening at 11pm, it was a pleasure to see Pete grace the wheels of steel almost immediately as we got in, and with a set that lasted for just over two hours, there could never be any complaints that the performance was too brief. The set ran thematically, with the crowd being initially treated to a slew of late ’80s classics before the transition into early ’90s bangers and several sections covering key artists of the genre. These sections were particularly enjoyable: I mean, you can’t go far wrong with a generous helping of Tribe, EPMD and the mighty Wu, and it was clear that Pete had read the crowd correctly as much lip-syncing and vibrant movements ensued (particularly from me). Finishing up with a half hour section of his own material was always going to get the Jazz Cafe rockin’, and it did just that in fine style. Clearly a DJ of the true school persuasion, it was also great to see Mt. Vernon’s finest make sure he made his presence felt on the mic as well with traditional call and response shouts going down a treat given the nature of the night. With a few beat juggles thrown in just to increase the flava, Pete’s set was killer throughout. Phew, all good so far.
Inevitably, there were a few elements to the night that griped. First of all, it had been publicised as a DJ/MC set, so in all honesty I was expecting Pete to kick a few verses over instrumentals, but this never happened. No big deal, but the event would have felt all the more complete with some live rhymes, particularly over the classics like ‘T.R.O.Y.’. However, the definitive low point of the event was rather frustratingly in the gig’s dying phases, where Pete showcased some of his new material. Now I’ve already highlighted the fact that I really like the recent a-side ‘914′, and it did go down well with the crowd, but unfortunately the remainder of the new joints were simply not uptempo enough to keep the high energy levels of the evening going effectively. I’m also sorry to admit it, but my first impressions of the three or four songs he played were not good, as they lacked the immediate punch that characterises so much of his extensive back catalogue. Bottom line? They didn’t work in a club. I sincerely hope that this was a result of circumstance rather than a true indication of my feelings of the songs themselves: here’s hoping they leave a more distinct impression on me when absorbed for a while at home after I cop the album in January.
Despite these factors, there is absolutely no taking away from Pete’s skill as a true party rocker. The songs played and the way in which they were sequenced was masterful, clearly the result of years of perfecting the craft. The vibe of the crowd and Pete’s astute DJing abilities made for something truly special: myself and crew had a sensational time. I even managed the obligatory end of night photo with the man himself after muttering something to the tune of ‘your music has really made a difference to my life’, but the smile on Pete’s face alleviates my worry that I made a total dick of myself. However, I am vaguely concerned that I may have an abnormally small head given the proportions displayed below.
It goes without saying that if Pete Rock rolls through your town then you’d be a fool to miss it: I have rarely seen a set put together with such an confident sense of style and finesse. The obsession with all things Chocolate Boy Wonder lives on… rejoice!