Concert Review: Nas & Damian Marley (Austin, 6/9)

Rap icon Nas and reggae legend-in-the-making Damian Marley stormed Austin last night, thrilling the vast variety of fans who’d come out to see them in the steamy weather – lovers of rap, reggae, and any combination of the two, were undoubtedly captivated watching the pair of artists rip through the tracks from their new joint album Distant Relatives, as well as deliver up their individual Grammy-winning crowd-pleasers.  Ever since their way-too-short SXSW set at Emo’s a couple of months ago, I’ve been really looking forward to seeing Nas and Damian again, so despite the grossness of the weather, we happily trekked out to Stubb’s with high expectations, and promptly had those expectations blown out of the water.

The show began with a DJ spinning a few tracks and getting the crowd nicely riled and ready for Nas and Damian’s highly anticipated entrance onto the stage, while the same eight-piece reggae band (including the Official Flag Waver and the badass and amazing background singers) that Damian has been travelling with for years took their spots.  Once they appeared, beginning with the rousing and catchy “As We Enter” from Distant Relatives, the energy in the house was totally explosive, and much of it was coming from the stage.  The way Nas and Damian trade verses, coupling up their very different vocal stylings seamlessly and letting loose their inspired rhymes, is electrifying.  They burned through two more songs from Distant Relatives, “Tribal War” and “Nah Mean,” before taking turns at solo mini-sets.

Nas went on first and pulled out songs from his extensive catalog, including his biggest albums – his classic debut Illmatic (“Represent”), and the controversial Hip Hop is Dead (“Hip Hop Is Dead”).   The crowd responded in kind, chanting back his famous  songs word for word in a clear showing of love for the rap star.  On stage, Nas absolutely owns the show; he has the swagger and honest energy of a man who believes that this is his calling in life, matched with an uncanny ability to use that to excite the audience in a matter of seconds.  When he’s on, he’s really on – his flow is among the best, the most natural, and the most assured.

After Nas’ several song run, he and Damian shared the mic again for another track from Distant Relatives, and then Damian took the stage for his own turn in the spotlight.  I would wager to bet that the majority of audience members were much more familiar with Nas’ solo work, but it was also obvious that many of them had come to see Damian based on reputation alone and his Jamrock album.  More people sang along to Nas, but there was no lack of applause for Damian – everyone was crazy eager to watch the highly buzzed-about son of a major musical legend perform.

Read the rest of my review after the jump!

I’ve officially seen Damian live more than any other artist – ever – and never once have I been disappointed, or even felt so-so about his performances.  It was plain to me the first time I saw him at the ACL Music Festival in 2006 that he was a serious force to be reckoned with.  Since then, I’ve been a huge fan (read my review of Damian’s Grammy-winning album Welcome to Jamrock here) and haven’t missed a performance yet, even though he hasn’t come out with another album.  His setlist can be totally predicted (it’s a mix of his own solo work and medleys of Bob Marley songs), but Damian is such a great performer that instead of it being boring to know what’s coming next, it’s exciting.

I’ve said before that Damian is the Marley child that most exemplifies uniqueness, and I believe that is why he’s becoming so successful, especially in the States.  Sure he draws plenty from the Marley song catalog for his shows – wouldn’t you? – but his original songs feature some of the most convincing proselytizing in modern urban music.  Damian’s rhyming and lyrics are so galvanizing that he had people screaming just out of the blue.  Attribute it to his skillfully complicated Jamaican dancehall-style flow, which he easily veers from hard-hitting to expressive, and his natural knack for bonding with the audience.

Other highlights from the show were the spoken-word song “Patience” (which samples Amadou and Mariam’s “Sabali”) and a stirring “Africa Must Wake Up” from Distant Relatives, Nas’ defiant performance of “One Mic,” and the closer, a medley of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved.”  Taking into account their considerable talent, it’s no surprise that the best part of the show was when Damian and Nas paired up and performed together.  Quite frankly, there were moments of each of their individual sets that were the very definition of brilliant, and that alone would have made for an amazing show.  But together, their performances were pure artistry – phenomenally good.

Nas and Damian’s message-driven collaboration and excellent chemistry on stage means that their shows are more than worth the ticket price.  My three words of advice: go see them.  They’re simply one of the best acts currently touring.

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