Spirit Fest


In the mid- to late-’80s, when Tone Loc and Sir Mix-A-Lot first attracted attention, an event that brought three platinum-selling rappers together would have caused any promoter plenty of sleepless nights. These were the days before hip-hop became mainstream-friendly, when even cuddly teddy bears who rapped over rock riffs about dogs humping their legs and smooth-flowing jesters who described their pagers and junky cars seemed dangerous. However, now that Dr. Dre’s Up In Smoke tour and DMX’s romp with the Ruff Ryders and the Cash Money crew went off largely without incident despite plenty of thuggish rhetoric, it would seem insane for anyone to fear the crowd drawn to a pairing of these veterans with the equally lovable Coolio.

Even the presence of rough-edge local bad boy Tech N9ne failed to make organizers nervous, and the charismatic lyricist justified their confidence by keeping it clean throughout a raucous set with his Rogue Dog. As the bass-driven beats thumped impressively from the speaker stacks, Tech paid tribute to Loc and Mix-A-Lot’s contemporary D.O.C. with an updated spin on “It’s Funky Enough,” then ended his set with an F-word-free rendition of the Rogue Dog Villains’ signature hit, “Let’s Get F*cked Up,” here presented in its “Crumped Up” radio-friendly version.

As evidenced by his invitation to rock a verse on last year’s “The Anthem” alongside such heavyweights as RZA, Eminem, and KRS-One, Tech N9ne gets much respect for his flow. The same goes for Coolio — who was given a pass despite his disco-flavored latter-day style because of his stint in W.C.’s underground clique, The Madd Circle — and for Mix-A-Lot, the only MC to represent for Seattle in the rap game. That leaves Tone Loc, who, despite hitting it big with “Funky Cold Medina” and “Wild Thing,” was largely dismissed even in his prime as a pop-hop doofus who lent his intriguing raspy voice to juvenile lines penned by Young MC. Such criticism wasn’t entirely justified, as the rest of the tracks on his only well-received album, Loc-ed After Dark, were much funkier than the singles, and his contribution to the all-star compilation “We’re All in the Same Gang” was steady and unembarassing.

Still, compared with the entertainment that preceded him and the professionals that followed, Loc looked sadly outgunned. Flanked by an unspectacular DJ and a few dancers, Loc padded the requisite recital of his lasting tunes with endless banter and slogans, along with a cover of a DMX tune that was inexplicably prefaced by the inquiry “Do you like the old school?” The 34-year-old Loc let his lackeys field nearly half of his rhymes, perhaps preserving his voice so his work in cartoon voice-overs wouldn’t dry up, and any misconceptions that Loc belonged in the same category with any of the other rappers on the bill died quickly on the Spirit Fest stage.

Meanwhile, the antithesis of a washed-up two-hit-wonder was wrapping up his performance on the East Stage. Brody Buster, who only recently turned sweet 16, offered a rollicking set with his full blues band, and his crisp, distinctive harmonica tone was gloriously audible from far out of eyesight, a welcome serenade for those purchasing $9 daiquiris or other pricey refreshments. Corey Stevens, who followed Buster to the stage, displayed similar virtuosity on a different instrument, as his Texas blues riffs brought to mind the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan, especially during such covers as “Willie the Wimp.”

Although those sitting in lawn chairs enjoying Stevens’ soulful licks seemed mighty comfortable, big butts soon were in motion, lest their owners miss Sir Mix-A-Lot’s loving tribute to les derrières grandes. As a pleasant surprise for those who have been into Mix since his “Square Dance Rap” (which Coolio later replicated, seemingly unwillingly, with his “Ghetto Square Dance”), the portly playboy dug deep into his catalog, producing the opening verses of “Beepers” and “My Hooptie” as well as a thorough rendition of the classic “Posse’s on Broadway.” Proving he hasn’t lost his stride, Mix also dropped bouncy new joints, such as “Buckin’ My Horse” (from the largely ignored Return of the Bumpasaurus), the lewd come-on “Put ‘Em on the Glass” (from Chief Boot Knocka), and a manic ode to Halle Berry, which appeared in Bulworth but didn’t appear on the soundtrack. On the latter two cuts, it was amusing to see parents squirm at the incessant double entendres and suggestive dance moves as oblivious and knowing children alike yelled the choruses. Often, these adults would exchange knowing glances with strangers in the same predicament, their eyes blinking out the words “This didn’t happen at that ‘N Sync show.”

After a refreshingly fat-free set, during which Mix-A-Lot rapped quickly and skillfully without much between-song banter, it came time for the song, and women of various ages were escorted on stage to “shake that healthy butt” while Mix and his dancers writhed nearby. “Baby Got Back” might have elicited the most fervent reaction from the crowd (although the dancing ladies might have helped quite a bit), but it’s a tribute to Mix-A-Lot that the song won’t be all that fans will remember from his set.

While Mix-A-Lot and Loc tripped over themselves to avoid profanity, the groups in the Modern Rock Pavilion made no such allowances. Many the F-bomb dropped as the funk-rap-jazz-metal crew Shudderbug and the alt-rock group The Feds attempted to get jaded teen audience members to drop their cell phones and start moshing. Response was slight at first, with only a middle-age man and a small child showing off their headbanging form, but eventually both bands earned the subtle nods of approval that serve as the equivalent of rousing applause coming from this hard-to-please demographic.

Over on the East Stage, ex-Eagle Joe Walsh was putting all rappers claims to old-school citizenship to shame, playing with a band that he admitted was composed of musicians who were born after the songs he was performing were released. Walsh spoke in slow, measured tones, and he seldom moved at all, but his guitar tone rang true during tunes such as “The Confessor,” as did his still-nasal vocals.

In one of the night’s biggest surprises, Coolio performed with a band that was larger, and possibly younger, than Walsh’s. Tunes such as “Fantastic Voyage” gained new life from the live-music format, with the group turning processed G-funk into real, breathing jams. Even Coolio’s new jams from his upcoming album, Coolio.com (at least it’s not called Coolio2K) dripped with fresh, booty-shaking funk. Coolio might be a one-dimensional entertainer — in fact, as the night progressed he apologetically said both “I can’t really dance that good” and “I never said I could sing” — but what he does, he does well. A master of crafting good-natured party tunes without cloying pop hooks or show-offy attempts to keep it real, Coolio kept the Fest jumping until closing time as he entertained a truly diverse crowd.

Categories: Music