Pharoahe Monch live @ New Bohemia 8/6/2007

Friday night saw New-York indie spitter Pharoahe Monch roll over to the Fav as part of his UK tour. Monch is best known his breakthrough single, the Godzilla-theme-sampling “Simon Says“, which featured on his debut solo album “Internal Affairs“, released on Rawkus Records way back in 1999 when the label was still worth a shit.

He’s back after an eight-year gap to promote his new album “Desire“. I was certainly curious to see whether an act who had had such a high profile around the time I got into Hip-Hop had managed to hold it together and could still be relevant… bearing in mind that Monch’s first LP with Prince Po as Organised Confusion was even longer ago in 1991.

First though, a quick run down of the support acts. As we (myself, Agent M) arrived, ASM were in full swing. They had a serious line-up on stage… two MCs, a DJ, violinist and flute-player… I think that was about it? Anyway, their playing was tight and the MCs delivered okay, with the whole thing sounding pleasant enough. What they lack is any sort of originality or individuality. When I first caught them a week or two back at J-Live’s Leeds gig, my impression was wannabe-Quannum MCs… this time round I thought more of A Tribe Called Quest. Good as a live warm-up act then, but I wouldn’t seek out their records.

Next up were DJ Andy H and MC Testament…. regular New Bohemia residents and good as ever. Andy demonstrated justifiably DMC-level skills and Testa held it together well in front of an increasingly impatient crowd.

Just before one in the morning, Testament announced that all cigarettes needed to be put out due to Pharoahe Monch’s chest problems. Not the most Rock & Roll introduction I’ve ever heard, but it did signal that the man himself was about to show his face. He was also taking the full-live-band route and was serenaded before his appearance by his backing singers.

His set consisted of re-playings of his classic hits in a Hip-Hop-fusion style… “Fuck You“, “My Life“, “Oh No“, “Right Here” and of course an energetic rendition of “Simon Says” towards the end. In some cases this took the form of the normal Soul-Funk-Jazz-Rap style that has become familiar thanks to The Roots et al, plus a scattering of effortless cutting from Pharoahe’s DJ. However, at other times the vibe was much more rocky… new track “When The Gun Draws” sounded I think rather like Black Sabbath, falling close to the point where both Funk and Metal found early inspiration in Jimi Hendrix.

At the end of the day it was undoubtedly a good performance, if not quite deserving of the levels of excitement demonstrated by some of the crowd. However, anyone expecting a Hip-Hop show per se was going to be disappointed. I enjoyed the re-interpretation aspect but would also have loved to have heard some straightforward rapping over instumentals as a counterpoint.

As one last slight complaint, I do also still have a problem with the Faversham as a venue for live acts (as opposed to DJs) due to the lack of visbility for anyone not in the first few rows. I think Pharoahe’s band in particular would have benefited more from being at, say, the Hi-Fi Club or The Wardrobe. A good show nonetheless…

Pharoahe Monch

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