Del's latest album, the excellent "Eleventh Hour" (Definitive Jux), gives the veteran rapper ample room to be playful and thoughtful. But at his show at New York's Highline Ballroom, the stage seemed

Del's latest album, the excellent "Eleventh Hour" (Definitive Jux), gives the veteran rapper ample room to be playful and thoughtful. But at his show at New York's Highline Ballroom, the stage -- his blank canvas to re-create the colorful mood -- seemed to overwhelm him. "I'm a li'l lit!" he warned, smiling, as he strolled out with a mostly empty bottle of Patron, a mic and A-Plus, his backing man for all 45 dates of the Eleventh Hour tour.

Del did soar on "Catch a Bad One," buoyantly flowing over the track's killer bowed bass sample and he threw his hands in the air as much as he demanded it from the crowd on "If You must." But despite delivering some hooks with guttural believability, his tongue tripped all over cuts like "Phony Phranchise" and his freestyles fell flat on his audience, who grew visibly agitated. "I doin' this for you!" he'd crow proudly at the end of each freestyle.

Labelmate A-Plus was able to hold down the fort and threw in a rhyme of his own, but the understated star of the show was Zac Hendrix, who manned the decks for all the night's acts with cucumber coolness. As soon as Del started a diatribe on, say, the death of funk and the price of a CD and his thoughts on Barack Obama, Hendrix would steer him back on track by cueing the next track. Hendrix couldn't prevent what could only be described as a flurry of slurs that was Del's only performance as Deltron, his moniker as contributor to Gorillaz; he completely fumbled the lyrics of "Clint Eastwood."

"Del's getting tired," quipped artist/rapper Bukue One, who MC'ed throughout the evening (and contributed his own "Cheese & Butter" with hilarity... a great track). That much was clear as Del had himself a little indecipherable monologue that cleared half the room at the night's wrap.

Opener Chip Fu, who was on the road supporting his record "M.A2.T.H." was a fun addition to the bill, though his tracks would begin and end in spits and starts without much fluidity. The reggae-influenced "Love Mi Sensi" proved a real treat. Trio Hangar 18, also on Def Jux, can be heard throughout this summer on Warped Tour.

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