Lupe Fiasco shines at House of Blues show

By Dan Gigliotti

Amidst a striking display of spellbinding instrumentals, a fiery Lupe Fiasco played to a sold-out crowd at the House of Blues in Boston on April 7.  

Torrents of rock-infused hip-hop emanated from the performer, who distinctly delivered a magnetizing routine with a poignant message.

Accompanied by artists B.o.B. and Dosage as part of his Steppin Lasers Tour, Lupe teased songs from his much-anticipated album set to be released sometime this year. Distributed at each entrance to the Lansdowne Street venue were printed copies of the rapper’s manifesto, a somewhat anti-establishment, libertarian proclamation meant to engage his followers.

If fans had checked on the artist’s social networking sites before the show, they would have read the memo he sent to all concert-goers about wearing a uniform of black sneakers, camouflaged pants and a black t-shirt. Most people, apparently, did not, and would be kicking themselves for it later on in the show.

Students and 20-somethings mingled in small clusters about the open floor and relaxed along the two balcony sections encompassing the venue. A selection of smooth hip-hop beats subtly emerged from the house speakers, supplementing the vacancy of a DJ.

The stage contained three hidden structures, veiled by black cloth and set directly up-stage from an emblazoned House of Blues logo. Further up-stage stood a second set of apparatuses including a drum-set, guitar and keyboard – intriguing the avid hip-hop fan to wonder to what extent they might be used during the upcoming acts.

Without introduction, the unfamiliar emcee Dosage appeared at 8 p.m. Intent on injecting the nonchalant crowd with energy, the Philadelphia-based artist prescribed a set of impressing alliterated rhymes over a host of run-of-the-mill beats. The mellow crowd took no particular liking to the excited and uppity entertainer, perking up to his initial arrival on-mic, but progressively losing interest.

The rapper seemed to cry wolf mid-act, sensing that the crowd’s vital signs were low. Suddenly, he began tottering and his knees buckled, crumbling to the floor mid-song in a yellow and denim heap. A dubious crowd looked on as some of his cohorts converged to his aid. After a couple of curious minutes, the audacious actor bounced back to his feet energetically, lacking savoir faire in a stunt which he proclaimed to be a way of getting the unresponsive audience’s attention.

However, Dosage elicited no empathy from the crowd, and bowed off-stage in relief after about 20 minutes of performing.

A mere 15 minutes later, a casual B.o.B. strutted onto the thrust, wearing a buttoned-up shirt, dark blue jeans and sunglasses. The unperturbed artist rhymed effortlessly, pacing about the foreground.

What was, at first, an unexciting display of rhymes eventually picked up enthusiasm. Urging everyone to throw their middle-fingers up to the sky, the southern stylist begrudgingly unleashed an ode to haters and introduced his wingman Playboy Trey.

Continuing with a passive-aggressive flow, the singer/rapper (alternately known as Bobby Ray) belted out his part to the T.I. hit “On Top of the World,” featured on the album “Paper Trail” along with Ludacris. He displayed his talents with a befittingly smooth melodic tone, careful not to over-step his vocal limitations.

When he wasn’t singing, the Atlanta, Ga.-native sounded similar to both members of Outkast, speeding up his lyrics to emulate Andre 3000 and embodying the cool demeanor of Big Boi.

He slipped into a liberating a capella freestyle, passionately denouncing his distaste for the ulterior motives of radio conglomerates. Then, others began to take the reigns of the instruments on-stage; Bobby Ray grabbed an electric guitar. With two other guitarists, a drummer and a keyboardist at his wings, B.o.B. appeared to be more comfortable while wielding the fender than when he was without it.

Bobby Ray urged fans to grab their digital devices to record his song “Satellite,” appearing on his 2009 mix-tape B.o.B. vs. Bobby Ray. Then, he switched over to an acoustic guitar, producing a ska-sound similar to bands such as Pepper.

He treated his unsuspecting audience to a couple of brand-new songs, sure to be featured on his new album entitled, “The Adventures of Bobby Ray off of Grand Hustle.” The singer’s voice control was apparent, as the collective musicianship of his performance was very ordinary.

In an act of showmanship, Bobby Ray invited a lucky female on stage to serenade for an faltering song, but appeased the rest of his fans by transitioning seamlessly back into his popular songs “I’ll Be in the Sky” and “Nothin’ on You.” The band broke into a feverish rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and B.o.B. relinquished the stage after an hour of play.

Crewmen disassembled the superfluous array of instruments and shed the black curtains atop the platform, covering a separate set of drums, a guitar and Mac Book turntables to be readied for the main act. In place of the House of Blues logo attached to the cyclorama, a banner was raised with a gaudy graphic representing the Steppin Lasers Tour, received by an ecstatic crowd.

Musicians assumed their positions, the lights dimmed and a countdown began, ending in an entrancing guitar riff signifying Lupe Fiasco’s “L.A.S.E.R.S. Manifesto.” From behind the curtain sprang a focused Fiasco, possessed by the sound of his tour’s theme “Shining Down.”

Wearing forest camouflaged pants and a Civil War-style brigadier coat, the rapper put on a pair of sunglasses and clutched the microphone. He tenaciously broke into his song “Solar Midnite” from the “Twilight: New Moon” soundtrack and followed it with a powerful version of “The Instrumental” off of his first album, “Food & Liquor.”

The clamoring percussion and shredding guitar licks created a dark, edgy sound characteristic of Lupe’s second album (“The Cool”), but not nearly that tame. Removing his coat, Lupe gave light to an apparent influence in his more furious sound style, revealing a black shirt which read “The Clash.” In this act, he invoked less of the bee-bopping rhyme styles of his early influences such as Nas and Crucial Conflict and administered a rebellious tone one would hear from Zack de la Rocha of Rage of Against the Machine.

After bridging into his song “Enemy of the State” off of his 2009 mix-tape of the same name, he treated audience members to an exclusive song called “State Run Radio” and continued to capture the crowd with his hits “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” and “Hi-Definition.” Then, his rhyme over the NERD club beat “Everyone Nose” led into a scrupulous version of “Go Go Gadget Flow” in which his intrepid flow was as impeccable as ever.

“I Got’cha” featured a rickety beat and “Kick, Push” brought the level of the show down to a calm recession before Lupe indulged his listeners in a rough rendition of a new song entitled “Scream.” An ominous snare-drum rattling transitioned into “Little Weapon.” In keeping with his theme, he continued to play his grimmer songs with “Streets on Fire,” bringing the impassioned rapper to his knees.

At times, Fiasco almost appeared to be operating in his own world, standing on-stage with fervent temperament. As if coming out of a trance, his eyes would repeatedly cut into the audience with a beguiling gaze, glowing gleefully and connecting with particular members of the crowd.

Fiasco expressed his anguish in an insightful monologue about his personal strife, explaining some of the reasons behind his heavier music. On cue, Fiasco’s drummer arose and sang a well-controlled verse over a calming guitar rift as part of a new song entitled “Beautiful Lasers.” The song “Fighters” ensued during what was the most affectionate performance of the night, only to receive the least affectionate crowd response. “I’m Beamin,’” the first single off of his new album, followed with a chant of ‘we are lasers’ by the rejuvenated audience.

The crowd reveled at the start of his next song “Superstar,” to the point where the zealous rapper halted mid-way through the first verse to soak in the excitement.

Fiasco and his band-mates left the stage momentarily, only to come back out to play the upbeat, frivolous flow “Paris, Tokyo” as an encore.

An impromptu act of fan appreciation was displayed next. Astonished at the fact that only a handful of people decided to heed the rapper’s request, Lupe invited six properly-attired fans on stage to relish in a performance of “Daydreamin.’” The giddy guys glided alongside the stage for a cute and awkward recital.

Lupe then thanked the crowd and made his way off-stage, leaving behind a streak of wellness.

Lupe Fiasco will also be playing a show at Worcester Polytechnical Institute on Saturday, April 24.

Dan Gigliotti can be reached at [email protected]