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The Pharcyde

Venue: Electric Ballroom, London

Date: 1st April 2016

By Andrew Kay | 02 April 2016

Billed as the 20th Anniversary show of their second (and better) album, “Lacabincalfornia,” (which was supposed to be played in full, according to the Electric Ballroom blurb on their website,) the two remaining members of The Pharcyde, Imani and Bootie Brown, came on stage to rekindle some of the 90s allure and magic that made them a favourite on the alternative rap scene, coming out of California in the early to mid-1990s. Seen as ana variation on Cali’s gangster rap scene cultivated by Dre, Snoop, et al, The Pharcyde’s brand of laid-back funk and positivity, not to mention wacky storylines and a playfulness, gave a credible niche to a scene that was in danger of being a one-note, negative ode to gangsterism. They also illustrated Los Angeles as a place of reflection and tranquillity, rather than being forbidding and crime-ridden.

After a fairly decent support show with a DJ that played 1990s classics from the likes of Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe and Akineyle to an indifferent, mostly white twenty-something crowd, it was hip-hop vicariousness at its most feeble, or as Jay-Z once said,  “You ain’t live it, you witnessed it from your folks' pad, you scribbled in your notepad and created your life”. The Pharcyde’s DJ Mike Brown, suited and booted, came to hype the crowd.

Playing “Hey Ya” by Outkast and cutting it up on both turntables and in unison on video monitor near the soundman’s soundboard, the DJ whetted the appetite for a good show ... or so we hoped.

Coming out to the frenetic piano lick of “Oh Shit” from their first album, both Pharcyde members engaged the crowd with a faithful rendering, along with some decent dance moves - not bad for guys in their mid-40s.  “Bullshit,” produced by J Dilla soon followed. The slumping, boom-bap with lush, lazy melodies filled the venue with a trance -like sway. The late Dilla was once again remembered, along with Sean Price. It wasn’t too long before the recently- deceased Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest got his eulogy with “Clap Yo Hands” and “Butter” filling the air, with reflection and sadness from a respectful crowd. “Buggin’ Out” played earlier in the DJ’s set, to rapturous approval.

However, in general, we got a hotchpotch of Pharcyde tracks, the best, predictably, being “Drop” and “Runnin.” “Drop’s” innovative video played on the monitor, in perfect synch to the performance on stage. No mean feat, but the whole thing felt a bit disengaged, messy, unrehearsed, lazy and dull.  “Runnin” cued up the original sample, “Sudade Vem Correndo” by Stan Getz & Luiz Bonfa, but it was only when the break morphed into the sample beat that the crowd got amped, otherwise it was beginning to sound like a Copacabana standard. Oddly, references to smoking weed - fairly passé nowadays - were accompanied by Bob Marley’s “Jammin’’, an utterly pointless and played-out moment, as was Mike Brown cutting up Daft Punk so that Imani and Bootie Brown could have a little rest.

The night ended on a high with “Passin’ Me By,” but it was all too safe and predictable. The greatest hits of a two-hit wonder band, frankly.

 

 

“Labcabincalifornia” wasn’t played in full and they were on stage for around 70 minutes. Better than some (such as EPMD, 35 minutes at the Forum, Kentish Town or Scarface in Los Angeles, 32 minutes), but the Pharcyde don’t seem to be much more than a karaoke outfit these days, resting on laurels, bum-parked twenty odd years ago, when, with a little more thought and practice, they could really energise a crowd next time around. Oh, and if you’re billed to play the whole of an album, then do so. There was no excuse for that.

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