The two best Blue Scholars shows I’d seen before Friday’s epic Seattle throw-down at New York City’s The Bowery Ballroom (check out Photo By Tone’s amazing pictures, here) were The Long March EP release party at Chop Suey in 2005, and the New Year’s Eve party at Neumos in the same year. Those concerts stood out because of the massive amount of energy their respective crowds brought, an element that’s absolutely vital to a successful live hip-hop show.
Blue Scholars was still in the natal stage when the ’05 show at Chop went down, with a small but devout following who went bananas that night for a group that would ultimately herald the beginning of a movement local music writers are now calling, “the new grunge.” It was my first time seeing them and I got caught up in the excitement. The New Year’s Eve show was nearly as animated, but probably much of it due to the jubilant atmosphere associated with the holiday.
The Bowery concert was different, however, for a couple of substantial reasons: First, Geo and Sabzi’s live presentation is incredibly refined these days. The setlist, the cuts between songs, how Geo moves across the stage, Sabzi’s well-executed stage dive near the end of the performance — everything is tighter, tuned-up, and built exclusively for keeping the audience engaged. I’ve seen much more well-known hip-hop acts execute shows that couldn’t touch what Blue Scholars are doing now; they’re becoming true entertainers.
Secondly, the venue couldn’t possibly get any bigger for this rap group. And by “bigger” I mean more relevant. New York City is the Mecca of hip-hop, we all know this. And for a group from Seattle, Washington to come into The Bowery Ballroom, a fairly prominent Manhattan venue, on a Friday night and sell out the joint…Well, has that ever been done before? Granted, I would estimate the crowd was at least fifty percent Townfolk, but it’s still an achievement considering notable groups from Brooklyn headline shows in New York venues half the size of Bowery and can’t rock them the way Blue Scholars did the well-known Lower East Side establishment.
I had a group of nine people with me, five of whom had never heard Blue Scholars’ music before, let alone seen them live, and they all came away impressed. While there was an enormous amount of 2-0-6 love flowing through the building, there was also an addictive energy — attributable wholly to Geo and Sabzi’s vibe — that swept up those who had no association with the area code. Blue Scholars did what so many other regionally-specific hip-hop groups strive to do: they represented their town to the fullest.
Check out the videos below (courtesy Youtube member, toneriggz):