7.15pm - Redrama
7.50pm - Estelle
8.30pm - 10.30pm - Gangstarr
Well, that is way it as supposed to run... Next to ATCQ and other select heroes of Hip Hop Gangstarr have to be one of the most consistent and loved crews. Last night I was lucky enough to attend their London Astoria gig of the Owners 2003 tour. We were a bit late turning up due to a small mix up with the tickets, no thanks to mr postie, and George Bush and the protests occurring due to his visit. We arrived at the venue at 8:30 and sidestepped the somewhat frenetic entrance. Everyone knew Gangstarr were due on stage and there was a mad rush from stragglers like myself to pick up their TicketMaster ordered tickets from the window. The search was cursory and I managed to get my AK 47 past the bouncers. I queued at the wrong window for 10 minutes, but all considering it was a lot less hassle than expected, probably because we turned up so late. The girl with the tickets on the door was polite and efficient and made a welcome change from arguing with some bouncer who doesn't want to let you in. The doors apparently opened an our and a half earlier and I bet it was queue city then. Once inside we passed by the bar and headed up to the balcony. The venue was absolutely heaving to capacity with people filling the isles. The downstairs section was already rocking and we were lucky enough to find ourselves a booth with a table, something which I didn't know existed, even from my previous visits and not something I'm accustomed to.
Guru was just coming to the stage and the crowd was hyped. I can't comment on the opening acts which included Estelle, who I would very much have liked to have seen, but she had left everyone in a great vibe. Apparently Premo had previously come out with a Jamaican flag, had a mask and cape on and rinsed the skit about fake DJs from The Ownerz. He then played the instrumental to Who Got Guns and took off his cape and mask. Actually the same trick he has played before, but pretty cool as no-one knew who it was initially and when the penny dropped people screamed all the louder. Premo was situated behind his decks which were arranged as he does with the two decks next to each other and the mixer on the left, all placed on a massive table which had the Gangstarr logo emblazoned on a banner hung over the front. There was nothing else on their stage set except for two massive white lights which were illuminated at key points in the performance. Premo wore a Gangstarr logo emblazoned sweatshirt, whilst Guru wore a black flat cap and several layers of t shirts which he gradually removed during the course of the show, ending up bare topped, displaying the many tattoos on his torso, something which wasn't surprising considering the considerable heat generated by an overcapacity audience.
The show opened with a series of Gangstarr classics, Code Of The Streets, Work and Royalty and I thought to myself that these guys could perform hit after hit and not have one duff track in their set. As it happens they did and there wasn't. Taking it back we were treated to Mass Appeal to which the crowd responded to positively, then they performed a few of the newer tracks from The Ownerz including the album prelude - Skills, followed by Ex Girl To Next Girl.
And by the time the imposing figure Big Shug decked out in red took to the stage to help out with the Militia everyone was going bananas. The recurring question that Guru asked was, 'what's my DJ's name?' to which everyone responded in a football chant stylee - Preeeemoooo. You could see that Guru and Premier were reveling in the adulation they were receiving and to keep the crowd on side London received as much props as New York did. Possibly because I was seated, an unusual occurrence for me at a gig, or perhaps because we had missed all the build up, something which I'm potentially not that bothered about if it was simply a case of longing it out till Gangstarr took to the stage, but the whole thing seemed to go by in a flash and I hadn't seemed that involved. I had been chanting and rapping along, but somehow it hadn't quite lived up to the last time I saw them at the same venue when Freddy Foxxx and a whole load of others were there to fill the stage. Never the less, Guru is a seasoned performer and with a little help from Big Shug and an anonymous hype man was able to fill the stage and captivate the audience with no need for props or stage design, but by the force of his presence.
Gangstarr, confident in their own ability are not scared to give the crowd what they want and they took a little interlude by way of getting busy over the beats for Bizmarkie's Just a Friend, Ol Drity Bastard's Shimmy Shimmy Ya, Still Dre, Worst Comes To Worst and Nas' The World Is Yours etc. to which the crowd responded. Following this they went into the piece which is performed at every gig - the homage to Big L, which is the opening to Full Clip. After Premo had made everyone wave L signs in the air Guru had the crowd waving their lighters and paying their respects.
After what seemed like a short performance Gangstarr left the stage to the astonishment of the crowd. Knowing the depth of their back catalogue and having seen them get down before I was confident they would be back for an encore if not another set of an equal length. The crowd chanted increasingly desperately and my confidence waned, but I should not have worried especially Guru had been sure to mention that we were going to get our moneys worth. When they eventually came back on stage Guru was sure to inform us that the Owners were in the house and that we were experiencing some of the most authentic Hip Hop London had seen for a while. He proceeded to rhyme some sick stuff off the dome accapella style as Premo got ready for part two of the Owners tour 2003. Old tracks like Jazz Thing got completely mashed up by Premo going mental on the cuts and the perennial classic DWYCK kept the high intensity of the performance right up there - Lemonade was a popular drink and it still is!
I can't quite remember the order of the playlist now I come to write this, but classic followed classic - You know my Steez, Take It Personal, All For The Ca$h, the Militia Part 3, Above The Clouds and Just To Get A Rep followed one after another. Everything had been thrown in for this performance, they even re-enacted the battle from 8 Mile at one point. The bar was easily accessible and the drinks were freely flowing and it was at this stage I was glad of a seat. Being a gig at the Astoria where they have a club night after the gigs it was all over too soon, but also being an older gentleman I'm also pleased of this these days as it means I can get home in reasonable time so that I can get to bed and be prepared for work in the morning.
Premier didn't do all is cuts on the night, many were already on the instrumentals, but he did drop several special beats many on the more hardcore side and he proved again that he is one of the most consummate crowd rockers. As not many DJs do he was always there with the mic to back up and emphasise as well as lead the crowd directly all along with providing the beats and extra cuts throughout.
I live Hip Hop and Gangstarr have to be a big factor in that. Five albums deep and a Greatest Hits too they are showing no signs of falling off. Guru may not be to most spectacular rapper, but when he combines with Premier something special happens and the result is just classic tracks. Although he must be getting on a bit now Guru was able to keep it up for just under two hours and once it was all over you knew that you had witnessed one of the most consistent Hip Hop bands and had been rocked thoroughly.
Many thanks to Sarah Sherry at Virgin New Media for sorting out the tickets and making up for the postman nicking the first set.
The Owners Preview Review