Jurassic 5 / Sept. 10, 2006 / Boulder, Colo. (Fox Theatre)
The publicity surrounding Jurassic 5's summer album, "Feedback," softly emphasized that the group was making an effort to broaden its appeal beyond the "backpacker" crowd that so enthusiastically receThe publicity surrounding Jurassic 5's summer album, "Feedback," softly emphasized that the group was making an effort to broaden its appeal beyond the "backpacker" crowd that so enthusiastically received their first two records.
However unfairly, J5 has never quite managed to achieve the sales figures to launch it into the rap limelight. "Quality Control" and "Power in Numbers" were terrific listens with tremendous consistency for latter-day hip-hop albums, but neither provided the breakout single the long-running crew so richly deserves.
In response, "Feedback" contains more outside production than earlier efforts and a reduction in the group chants and retro-flavored beats that were always J5's signature. While the new album might be a bit of a letdown to longtime fans, the band's live show continues to be one of the most potent and entertaining in rap.
While the loss of co-DJ and avowed cratedigger Cut Chemist is felt deeply on the new set's unimaginative tracks, in the live setting, his former partner Nu-Mark is more than adequate at providing dense and varied beats. Also, the different personalities of Jurassic's four MC's come across beautifully on stage. There's Soup, the leader and master of ceremonies, gentle giant Chali 2Na, thoughtful and spiritual Akil and Marc 7, whose small size and unassuming stage presence belie his ample mic skills.
Together the crew presents a live show that's light years better than the standard hip-hop package tour. No miming to truncated versions of singles on DAT tape here. While Nu-Mark crossfaded beats from the band's debut EP into jams from the new album, the rappers delivered the goods, recreating the four-part unison rhymes and hectic verbal interplay of their records while adding in unreleased routines, freestyles and roof-raising audience participation sections.
Many of the songs on "Feedback" in their studio incarnations depend on backing tracks that unbecomingly ape the style of more commercially successful rappers. Coming from Nu-Mark's turntables on stage, stripped down to just their core samples and booming drumbeats, they fit in more elegantly with older classics like "Concrete Schoolyard" or "What's Golden." Free of its Dave Matthews vocals, "Work It Out" comes across as another great J5 song, not the desperate attempt for airplay it seems on record.
Despite restricting the set to only a brief medley of songs from the first EP and album, Jurassic 5 still delivered plenty for the hardcore fan. The rapid-fire deliveries on "A Day at the Races" made its revving-engine intro unnecessary. Nu-Mark's solo turns, far from being the programmed bathroom breaks most DJ spotlights at rap shows become, were riveting and funky. The band saved the best for last, keeping the encore going with a long freestyle session featuring guests from opening act X-Clan. Marc 7 and Soup, in particular, demonstrated awe-inspiring skills.
Part of what has always made Jurassic 5 acclaimed as a live act is the element of surprise. On their tours after "Quality Control" hit, they played memorable shows where they'd break out kazoos for "Concrete Schoolyard" and their DJs would step back from the boards to play zither duets. This time around, the goof is the unveiling of a row of five monogrammed drum synthesizers, on which the group goes to town with the obvious glee of grown men playing with toys. The rest of the beats were a more serious business, as the ever-active Nu-Mark cut and scratched with furious abandon, keeping the rappers and the dancing audience on their toes. Far from just letting the backing tracks play while the MC's do their thing, J5's DJ actually works the turntables like a musician.
Over the course of a two-hour show, some nitpicks are bound to pop up. It's not the most original sentiment in the world, but it certainly would have been nice to hear more of the old stuff. Some of the rappers in the group, particularly Akil and Marc 7, have to adjust their delivery to come across with force live, and as a result they're not as slippery smooth as on record. Not every song on the new album was redeeemed. The bland, unoriginal "Radio" still sounds like a hollow celebration of selling out old-school rap ethics and "Future Sound" just doesn't have a funky enough beat. Nu-Mark also crossfaded out of "Quality Control" before Chali's classic Pedialyte line.
There is one more thing that must be mentioned. If Jurassic 5 is really interested in shedding its image as a rap group for suburban kids, the group ought to avoid playing shows in lily-white college towns for $30 a head. Just a word of advice to the wise.
Here is Jurassic 5 set list:
"Back 4 You"
"I Am Somebody"
"If You Only Knew"
"End Up Like This"
"In the House"
DJ Nu-Mark Solo
"A Day at the Races"
"Turn It Out"
"Work It Out"