The PFG Social Club: The Pharcyde @ NXNE 2011

Grown folk music for the young at heart.

I was recently out at a pub in The Annex neighbourhood of  Toronto with some coworkers having a chat with one of the young’uns.  She was surprised to learn I’m as old as I am.

“You’re thirty-three!?  How’s that working for you?” she asked, displaying the typical skills for tact shared by many 20-year-old women.
“You know what’s awesome about getting older?” I said, “You stop caring about a lot of dumb shit.  You hit this age, you have a clearer understanding of what you will and will not tolerate.”

Among the lists of thing I don’t tolerate in my early middle age.

  1. General admission concerts.
  2. Outdoor  general admission concerts.
  3. Getting weed smoke blown all over me at outdoor general admission concerts.
  4. Getting weed smoke blown all over me at outdoor general admission concerts by mooky frat boys  who stop blowing only to swap stories about getting their dicks wet.
I would never endure any of these things under normal circumstances.  But Sunday night was not a normal circumstance.  Sunday night was The Pharcyde.

All my rap stories start the same:  I’m in high school, I watch Rap City every night on Muchmusic, I am enraptured by the videos I see, they stay with me for the rest of my life.  One such video is, not surprisingly, The Pharcyde’s Passin Me By.  Much has been made of that song’s impact over the years, but it’s still hard to overstate.  In an era where west coast hip-hop was G-Funked, for this quartet of weirdos to get heavy airplay off a single discussing heartbreak and unrequited love was pretty unheard of.  That and the shot of SlimKid3 with his arms stretched like a scarecrow at 4:16 stuck with me for almost 20 years.

When Runnin’ dropped, my mouth hit the floor.  When Drop followed, it was a wrap.  It was also the start of my J.Dilla love affair [though I didn’t know that at the time].  Labcabincalifornia is still in my Top 10 Rap Albums, a record I think is maybe, finally, starting to get the shine it deserves, after suffering from bloated expectations coming off their acclaimed début.  When the follow-up wasn’t as bugged out as the début, a lot of people slept on it  [Read all my thoughts on Labcabin here].

When the schedule for the annual North by Northeast festival [Canada’s answer to South by Southwest] was announced, I was pleasantly surprised to see The Pharcyde on it.  When I realized they were doing a free show in the middle of the city, essentially closing the festival, I was ecstatic, and knew my attendance was mandatory.

The tardiness of the show’s start may have irritated a portion of the audience, but nobody who’s ever been to a hip-hop show ever expects it to start on time.  Be that as it may, by the time Imani, Bootie Brown and Slimkid hit the stage at Yonge and Dundas, the crowd was hungry.
My biggest question as the show started was how the trio would handle the absence of Fatlip, who left the group after their reunion for the 2008 Rock the Bells tour.  It felt like the crowd shared my skepticism in that regard, but it didn’t take the remaining members long to convince us a party was at hand. Backed by a DJ, drummer and keyboardist, the set was heavy on classic material from their first two albums [Runnin, Drop, Passin Me By, Ya Mama] with a couple unexpected joints thrown in [Trust, Bootie Brown doing his verse on Dirty Harry by Gorillaz]. An unexpected tribute to Nate Dogg had the crowd going nuts, singing along to his classic hooks, had my section of the crowd losing our minds.  By the time they closed their set with 1992’s Oh Shit, everyone in the place was cursing along with them.
But if there was one amazing surprise for me, it was including She Said. Coming during SlimKid’s mini solo set [every member got one], I turned my head to the sky and forgot the weed smoke and the idiots surrounding me and sung along, remembering every woman past and present I wanted to promise me it would be good if I stayed with her tonight.  How very emo of me.
If that had been the best moment, it would have been worth it to me, but they gave so much to the crowd it was only one high point of many.  Hip-hop shows can be a mixed bag in the best of circumstances, but The Pharcyde made up for any tardiness by leaving it all on the stage, and reminding me why I was a fan in the first place.


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