The first night of the first-ever City Arts Fest went down in the grandest of fashions and Seattle’s premiere venue was packed from start to finish for an all-star lineup of (mostly) local hip-hop music for the first time. Even with an outrageously early start time (6:30 p.m.), a line stretched down two blocks of Pine street with fans eager to rush to the stagefront right as doors opened and every act was presented with a sizable crowd.
Mash Hall kicked things off with their ’80s/’90s pop culture-saturated throwback jams, the 808-heavy tracks sounding absolutely crushing on the Paramount’s soundsystem. Although many of the samples and sound clips were over the heads of the largely young crowd, they ate up the slumping beats, impressive B-Boying and characteristic high-energy performance. And they definitely appreciated the Lil Wayne drop in “Hi-Fivin’ My Cousin.” Throwing mini-baggies of, umm, “party favors” into the audience during “Whitney” probably didn’t hurt either.
Fresh Espresso further proved their ability for grabbing full crowd attention that they displayed during their Bumbershoot and CHBP sets. The shout-along hooks and synth-driven beats (again, sounding huge over the house PA) of their electro party-rap were perfect for the eager crowd, getting bodies moving and hands in the air. Their new stuff sounded great – that song “Hush” is the joint – and their now-signature finale of “Lazerbeams,” with an added “robots comin’ for you” rock-out of an outro thanks to the live drums is straight bananas.
Finally Macklemore took the stage amid rampant cheers from the younger fans dominating the audience. I’m not sure what it is exactly that sets him apart from many other local rap acts in this respect, but the kids absolutely love him. Lucky for them, he brought his A-game and put on one hell of a show. This guy puts everything into his performance, and for one on this big of a stage (literally and figuratively) he pulled out all the stops.
The giant background video screen was continually utilized, most notably for a hilarious intro video for Raven Bowie – aka Macklemore’s alter-ego during crowd-pleaser “And We Danced.” The song itself sent the crowd into a fit of hands-up pogoing, with Macklemore busting out a little choreographed routine alongside his backup dancers. Crowd favorite “The Town” took off into the Sabzi-produced remix halfway though, and he even busted out the new version of “Otherside.”
The vibe throughout the set was straight electric, with the crowd showing unbridled love and Macklemore feeding off of every bit of it. He chatted it up with them throughout, threw a pair of Jordan V’s to some lucky fans and crowd-surfed during the always-triumphant closer “Irish Celebration.” When his set finished he stood centerstage, eyes closed and arms outstretched, drinking in the chorus of cheers and realizing that this was all happening in The Paramount Theater.
Although Mack’s was a hard act to follow, Rhymesayer Brother Ali took advantage of the buzzing crowd and put together a damn fine set that was overwhelmingly well-received. Showcasing a professional command of the mic and overall polish to his flow and stage presence, he represented as the sole out-of-towner on the bill and set the stage for the main event.
Finally the headlining Blue Scholars came out to their new xx-intro-sampling “Lumiere,” a fitting choice for the first song of the set even though Sabzi screwed up the initial bass drop. Geo spit his lines with an impeccable veteran’s cadence, annunciating clearly so everyone could hear his fresh lyrics.
From there the setlist only got better, as they plunged headlong into a greatest-hits-style chain of tracks from the Bayani and the self-titled debut. “2nd Chapter,” “50 Thousand Deep,” “Blue School,” “Bruise Brothers,” “Motion Movement,” “Inkwell” (which included Sabzi’s omnipresent Modest Mouse “Float On” mash-up), “Sagaba” and “Still Got Love” all were performed back-to-back. “The Ave,” “Bayani” and the awesome “Southside Revival” from their Long March EP also were in the mix. Pumping out these hits really reminded me, and likely a host of others in the crowd, just how much definitive Seattle music these guys have put out since their inception.
The Scholars’ newer stuff sounded great as well and relevant as always. “Commencement Day” was accompanied by a shout-out to the Spokane high school teacher that was suspended for handing out the song’s lyrics to her class. “Paul Valery,” although it uses a rather corny Owl City sample, is a testament to our modern Internet-fueled world and cultural climate. It wasn’t all serious though, as they brought back their old propensity for giving props to all things South End with an homage to Beacon Hill’s old Foulee Market on Columbian Way. MTV-famous local B-Boy crew Massive Monkees even made an appearance.
While they closed with the anthemic and reflective “Joe Metro,” they opened up their encore set with a handful of the other rappers onstage for a new town-pride cut, listing a bunch of Seattle neighborhoods and cycling through photos of just about every person involved in the local hip-hop scene on the screen behind them. They then went into the perfect combo of “North by Northwest” and “No Rest For the Weary,” and it was finally time to say peace.
All in all the night was a smashing, undeniable success. The Paramount was packed (not sold out, but damn crowded) the entire night, with many troopers sticking it out from doors-open until the very end. Regardless of how the night would’ve gone, this show would’ve been historic achievement for the sole fact that a local hip-hop act was headlining this venue. But somehow it was more than that.