87 Stick Up Kids, Freddie Gibbs at Troubadour: You Can’t Win ‘Em All

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Maybe the crowd, a crew of mostly sweet-faced, postpubescent hip(hop)sters, had a hard day at college. Maybe the acts’ bourbon-and-coke styles just happened not to coalesce as expected. Maybe it was just one of those Wednesdays.

But Troubadour‘s billing last night of DaVinci, The 87 Stick Up Kids, Free the Robots, and Freddie Gibbs with live band, The Park, never picked up the momentum for which at least two are known.

San Francisco rapper DaVinci had the always-difficult task of opening the night. The crowd began trickling in during his set, but they were there to see Freddie Gibbs (good sports The 87 Stick Up Kids confirmed that when they shoved a microphone in a front-rower’s face).

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The 87 Stick Up Kids, whose hyperkinetic shows seem fueled by cocktails of Popov vodka drugged with Pixy Sticks and sucked through Sour Straws, tried their best to engage the sluggish crowd. Squishy, who looks and acts like Ad-Rock’s little brother, threw himself around the stage, Tootsie-Rolled (“I did the butterfly,” he corrected later), and tried to take the audience along for the fun ride that’s an 87 Stick Up Kids show, but they weren’t budging. “This crowd is weak,” a guy said in disbelief.

Although their hearts just didn’t seem in it after awhile, The 87 Stick Up Kids continued their romp, dragging some life out of the crowd with  “Bounce Rock Roll,” “Lights, Camera,” and the really irresistible New Orleans-bottomed, scat-strewn, “Born to Role.”

Low Ender Free the Robots’ Q*Bert-like bleeps followed The 87 Stick Up Kids, which seemed to confuse the crowd.  Besides, they’d been ready to see Freddie since they’d shown up.

A word about Freddie Gibbs: He is, without even the slightest shadow of a shadow of a doubt, one of the most technically and lyrically impressive artists working today. That talent is made only more appealing by the suspicion that for Gibbs, rap is only a very preliminary means to an end—as he says in “Crushin’ Feelin’s,” “Rap ain’t nuthin’ but talkin’ shit, I’m just the best at it,” or, put more explicitly, “Trying to make a million dollars, fuck a million downloads.”

Those gems are why Gibbs is great, and that’s why last night’s show was such a disappointment—you couldn’t hear him. While it’s admirable of him to try to change his show up (how many rappers put on the same boring show every time you see them?), adding a live band and backup singers did him no favors.  Songs that usually corral the contingent of fans who love to scream along with the lyrics—“The Ghetto,” “National Anthem (Fuck the World),” “Personal OG”—barely made them move.

After closing his set and briefly disappearing, he returned without the band. “Band’s gone,” he shrugged before drilling a couple of quick verses a cappella. And for the first and last time of the night, the room visibly straightened its shoulders.