Saturday, 10 September 2016

Live Review: Sugar Hill Gang / Lucille Crew @ The Barby, Tel Aviv [30th August 2016]

Once every so often, you will hear a name of an artist or band that you never expected would come to Israel. Sometimes it's because of the band being quite underground and for a niche market. Other times it's because the artist is so big and legendary that you don't imagine them coming to such a small country. And then there are those who are not only big and legendary...but that you didn't even know were still performing!
 As a part of their first ever European tour in over a decade, tonight sees the arrival of hip hop legends, The Sugar Hill Gang, to Tel Aviv's Barby club. Surprised by many people asking me "who?" when I mentioned I was going to see them, all it took was quoting the first line of Rapper's Delight to rectify that problem. Despite being on the same night of the release show for local queens of the underground Deaf Chonky, I could not miss the opportunity to see what The Sugar Hill Gang had to offer.

Lucille Crew

  With the Barby at about half its capacity by this point, the night starts off with opening act Lucille Crew. I have seen the name a lot on social media. I don't know much detail about the band, but they are an Israeli hip hop band, or groove collective, as they prefer to classify themselves. Despite hearing the odd song or two, which I was impressed by, I hadn't really paid them much attention. I had heard positive feedback from quite a few friends; tonight I get to see it for myself.

  Being a full NINE piece band, things already look promising as soon as they arrive on stage. I'm normally pleased if there is at least one horn player, so seeing a saxophonist, trombonist and trumpeter on stage is more than joyous. The band walk on to a "bring da motherfucking ruckus" playback (Wu Tang Clan). This makes me think that what we're about to witness to heavy as hell gangster rap. Unfortunately, it isn't but it's still damn good!
  Playing music that reminds me of Ozomatli, The Roots and Fun Lovin Criminals, Lucille Crew rightly deserve the "groove collective" label. Mixing both latin and Middle Eastern rhythms with an old school hip hop style, there's a lot of focus on groove. They seem to already have some fans in the audience, who dance and sing along to the likes of What The Hell, Big City and the horn-stab-tastic (should be a word..) Bounce.   Rapper Rebel Sun and vocalist Gal De Paz work great together. His Jurassic 5/Roots style delivery and her haunting vocals, that lie somewhere between Paloma Faith and Beth Gibbons (Portishead), compliment each other well. It's interesting to point out that the lyrical content, especially where the rapping is concerned, is actually quite sexually explicit and adult at times, although it all somehow manages to come across as so innocent and family friendly. The band altogether are fun and seem like a genuinely tight family unit. I was pleasantly surprised.



I don't normally talk about what goes on in between sets at a show. This is normally because nothing happens apart from some songs being played over the PA and the setting up for the next act. Tonight is different. Being a hip hop show, there are some b-boys in the house who just can't keep themselves from busting a move. A dance circle ensues and practically becomes an extra warm up act on its own. There still isn't a lot of people here by this point, at least not as many as I would expect for what I consider quite a major event. Those who are here are making good use of the time and the good music.

Sugar Hill Gang

The dancing dies down as sounds start coming from the stage. The band's Dj, Rob Temple, is stood by his decks and introduces the MCs. As original Sugar Hill Gang members the gigantic Wonder Mike and the suave looking Master Gee arrive on stage accompanied by the pimped-out Hen Dogg, all heads face towards the stage and cheering begins. The legendary rappers immediately showcase their decades experience as entertainers, interacting with the crowd from the start. They might be using clichés like "Let's tear the roof off" and "Do you guys know how to party?" but it would be more surprising if they weren't. 


  As the band go through a sprinkling of their own material, including classic track 8th WonderFast LaneLa La Song (their collaborative house track with Bobby Sinclair) and a new song or two, they are met with smiles and a bit of boogying. However, a majority of the band's set is made up of half-covers of classic hip hop and r'n'b/motown/soul tracks. The Message naturally goes down quite well, as does a wonderful medley of r'n'b classics like Best Of My LoveABC and "...Sex Machine"

  Having already explained to the audience about their early days playing house parties and the club circuit, the band actually take to playing instruments. These guys don't just attempt to play, but they have some proper musical chops. As well as Master Gee proving that he has rhythm on the drums and Wonder Mike surprising us with his impressive finger work on the bass, it is Dj Temple who, after being in the shadows for the first half of the set, suddenly shows that he too has some pipes on him, as he takes on lead vocal duties while also playing keyboard. The band basically transport themselves to a practice room, having a bit of freestyle funk jam, touching upon the Crazy In Love/Are You My Woman lick as well as breaking into a little bit of the MJ classic, Billie Jean.

 Leaving the instruments behind, the gang get back to their 3 MCs and 1 Dj setup. As well as mentioning how great it is to perform under the Sugar Hill Gang name after all the controversy (check out the documentary "I Want My Name Back"), saying how much they've enjoyed being in Israel and how great the food is, the band also give thanks to their influences and everyone who has helped them along the way. This leads to another short cover of Purple Rain in honour of the late Prince. As sweet as this is, it's not until the legendary Jump Around horns start playing that everyone really starts..well...jumping! As the place goes nuts, the band suddenly slides into the classic Apache and is later followed by Sugar Hill's signature tune Rapper's Delight. Let's be honest...these two tracks are why most people are here tonight. They could just do these two tracks on repeat and the crowd would be happy. Apache brought on a dance craze made even more popular by The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Rapper's Delight is forever considered the first song to bring rap and sampling to the US. They are both long standing party anthems and they have the same effect here tonight. The band even return to the instruments during Rapper's Delight, showing that they can actually play the Chic sample on their own.

Wrapping things off returning for an encore of random funk jamming, it seems as though Sugar Hill Gang really want to continue the party. Unfortunately, I think most of the crowd had already lost interest as soon as they realised they weren't going to do Rapper's Delight again. It is a bit of a let down that not enough people have come out to witness these legends reunited for such a special tour, but it hasn't seemed to have bothered them, persevering  and giving it all they've got and just a whole lot of LOVE.


All photos courtesy of Raz Mor

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