Cypress Hill Jam It Up In Philly

Roll another number for the road? Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

ATN Philadelphia correspondent Chris Nelson reports:

Friday (Feb. 9) was a night that was bookended by strange announcements. The

first came as I was being frisked on the way in to see Cypress Hill, 311, and

the Pharcyde at the Electric Factory. The security guy stopped me at the door,

felt my jacket pocket, and asked, "What're these, pens?"

"Yeah," I

explained, "I'm writing about the show."

"I don't care, no pens allowed in"

shot back the guard. "Take 'em back to your car or you don't get in."

After a quick trip to the box office, I found out that the last time the

Pharcyde played here, the Electric Factory's bathroom walls were covered with

scrawl from Sharpie markers.

A friend in the office explained my situation

to security, and this time the guard didn't bother to finish frisking me before

letting me in. As I made my way through the hall, I wondered, "What's up with

Philly this week?" First our cops are on Jello Biafra and Alternative Tentacles

about an album cover (see "Music News Of The World," Feb. 9), and now Electric

Factory is keeping armed writers, graffiti taggers or not, out of shows.

Coincidentally, the pen ban dovetailed with a story on Friday's news that

legislators are working to outlaw spray paint in the city. If passed, the law

will make it easier to buy a hand gun than a spray can--just like it would have

been easier, once I visited the box office, to bring a weapon into the show

than my ball point pens. (I digress, but I can't help but note that perhaps a

better way to deal with the graffiti problem in Philly is to give our kids some

viable way to make a name for themselves that's more substantial than a series

of tags in their neighborhoods.)

The Pharcyde started kickin' it around

8:30. It only took a few songs to remind me of Cypress Hill's DJ Muggs and his

observation that, in the age of video, most rappers aren't forced to earn their

live props like in the old days. "It ain't about just walking back and forth

on-stage," Muggs pointed out. While the Pharcyde came out strong, they couldn't

keep the action flowing. After a mere 30 minutes, they were virtually standing

still, looking as if they were hanging around the set of a TV aerobics show

after the cameras had been turned off.

Following the Pharcyde, you'd think

I'd be primed for 311, a full five-piece band, with drums, guitar, and bass to

complement a DJ. It's been my experience, though, that when it comes to

slammin' hip-hop, I'd rather hear a dope DJ than a rock band. Maybe I just

haven't seen a live rap band that's as inventive with its instruments as the

best DJs are on the wheels of steel. 311 backs their rhymes with standard,

college band funk, with a little distortion tossed in for good measure. It

wasn't hard to pick out traces of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lenny Kravitz, and

Urban Dance Squad (and, on one song, I swear, Styx!). They even pulled out the

scariest of rock band by-products, the drum solo--yikes! For my money, I'd

rather watch a simple DJ, front and center, or up high on drum

risers.

That's what we got when Cypress Hill assumed command of the stage

for their hour-long show. Opposite Muggs on his own set of risers was new

edition Eric Bobo on various implements of percussion. He was the secret

ingredient that kept the set live at all times. Compared to the set I saw Bobo

play with the Beastie Boys last year, his performance Friday was without

question more purposeful. In fact, it was critical to the success of the show.

At least it was in my book; I'm not sure how many of the 3700 other folks

noticed Bobo. They were fixed on the next Cypress hit, saving their best

responses for songs from Black Sunday, such as "Insane in the Brain" and

"Hits from the Bong." Anyone curious about the band's crossover appeal with the

alternative set needed only to note the WDRE ("Philly's Modern Rock") sponsor

signs hanging from the mezzanine railing. They could have also checked out the

T-shirt stand, which featured the new staple concession of many

indie/alternative bands, the thrift store work shirt with a band logo patch

sewn over the breast pocket. I'm sure Cypress Hill figures that if Green Day

and countless others can bite the knit hat souvenir, why shouldn't they make a

work shirt? According to B-Real, "Music is music," and by extension I guess,

tour bucks are tour bucks.

The band split its set for the most part evenly

among material from all three of its albums. I was hoping to hear more from

their latest release, III (Temple of Boom), but it's difficult to

present such moody, mental music in a hip-hop party context. "Throw Your Set in

the Air," for example, lost much of its recorded spookiness, thereby assuming

the role of just another C Hill butt shaker.

It was my head, however, not

my butt, that was shaking at the end of the set, when B-Real made the evening's

other strange announced: His partner in crime, Sen Dog, would no longer be with

the Cypress Hill crew. As if to set the record straight for posterity, as well

as for those unfamiliar with the band member's faces, he added that Sen hadn't

even been there Friday night. Whoever took the rapper's place certainly had me

fooled in the back of the hall. That dude sounded to me as much like Sen Dog as

Brian Johnson sounds like Bon Scott. B-Real gave no reason for Sen's split, but

added that "We still love that motherfucker a lot."

It was an unexpected

announcement, especially in light of the fact that it's DJ Muggs who has taken

off from playing tours in the past, and who I pegged to not be in the house

that night. B-Real assured the crowd that he, Muggs, and Bobo are staying

together, and that with or without Sen Dog, "Cypress Hill will always be

strictly hardcore."

I'm telling you, things are weird in

Philly.