Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hip hop hits Durango!

Now that was fun!

Living here in little ol' remote Durango, we don't get many tastes of Big City Culture. And if I miss anything of living near one of them Big Cities, it's the music culture.

Sure, we get some great underground folk and bluegrass -- such as The Gourds playing the intimate and historic Henry Strater Theatre (a.k.a. "The Hank") last week, and Martin Sexton who will be making his guitar sing as ornately as his voice Sunday night.

But beyond that, the big acts (aside from the occasional acts who were big back thirty years ago when I was a teenager living near one of those big cities, and who are today more like a bit of traveling history than a true, vibrant musical experience, i.e. The Beach Boys last summer, or upcoming shows by the Charlie Daniels Band and Stephen Stills) tend to -- of course -- bypass our little hamlet set so far off the interstate in favor of those Big City venues.

Well, we got a sweet taste of contemporary culture last night, when The Mighty Underdogs brought their dynamic and groovy hip hop beats to the stage at the Abbey Theatre. It was a welcome and invigorating breath of Big City air, right here in our little mountain town. A nice bit of what we might call Hick Hop.

The Mighty Underdogs feature my personal favorite MC and song writer, Gift of Gab, from the fantastic San Francisco-based rap duo Blackalicious. Gabby's song writing is not your usual rap: his writes tight, quick, snappy lyrics wrapped in rhythmic grooves, and generally delivering thoughtful, positive, and witty messages -- what I only partially tongue-in-cheek refer to as "Buddhist Hip Hop."

The Mighty Underdogs -- featuring performers culled from other bands, kind of like a 70s-style supergroup (so you other oldesters out there can compare, like, say, the 21st century equivalent of Bad Company or Asia, but without the stadium shows) -- is, along with Gift of Gab, Lateef the Truth Speaker, of Latyrx, and producer Headnodic, of the Crown City Rockers.

Now I realize I'm just a middled-aged small-town hillbilly white guy, but I love this stuff. And I particularly like this particular genre of rap music often labeled "conscious hip hop." I think it's good stuff, with a good message. And I'm glad my kids and I, particularly my high-school-aged son, can share an appreciation for this modern music together. And I must say that it's pretty cool to be able to say I was the one who turned him on to these fine, fun beats.

And last night I was really glad we could share it together, live on stage, right here in Durango.

To be sure, my wife and I and our buddy Todd -- also a music junkie and conscious hip hop fan -- were the oldest kids at this all-ages show. But that was okay. And it even added to the cultural insight for us middle-aged hipsters. Standing along the rail on the balcony over the main dance floor, we had a prime view of the hundred or so of our town's high school kids and college students (many of whom we knew or recognized) getting the big-city kicks.

The show began with an hour of Denver-area mash-up artist DJ Vajra mixing beats for the swarming mass of kids on the dance floor. Here we got a visual treat and surprise: the dance floor parted and -- I swear, in what was like a modern reinterpretation of that classic dance scene from Saturday Night Fever -- kids would jump into the middle of the circle and offer whatever break-dancing moves they could muster for their fellow patrons pleasure.

And everyone seemed very pleasured, even by the meagerest of dancing attempts. It was a great, fun, appreciative teen-tribal spirit flowing around the place. And some of the dancers -- like the guy who spun a few moves, then mimed pulling two girls out of the crowd on an imaginary rope, followed by all three performing a synced and crazily-well choreographed chorus-line dance -- were quite good.

But then came the Underdogs, and for an hour and half the trio hopped and rocked the place. You felt they, too, were loving it, and they played it hard, worked the crowd well, and spread those truly good vibrations that some old, worn out dog-and-pony show of a one-time big-time band could never bring to our little town.

Long live the kids! Of all ages!

Check out the Mighty Underdogs:

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