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Concert review: Hip-hop takes center stage at PromoWest Fest day two

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Of the three days of PromoWest fest, Saturday was probably the most genre-diverse. It was the only day with hip-hop acts, and two of the genre’s most recognizable names.

The crowd didn’t start to swell until LL Cool J’s sunset performance in the late afternoon. Before then it was surprisingly light, with many artists’ sound seeming too big for such meager observers.

However, neither the small crowds nor the beating sun – which was relieved only briefly by the occasional cloud and light breeze – diminished the enthusiasm of the artists and fans.

Snoop was the main event, and he sauntered on stage right on time (maybe even a bit early, to abide by the city’s noise curfew) to “The Next Episode.” The next hour and 15 minutes or so were filled with years of west coast classics, from “Gin and Juice” to “Drop it Like it’s Hot” and “What’s My Name?”

Songs from his latest record, “Coolaid,” fell a bit flat, but mid-show tributes to Eazy-Z, Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur brought the crowd back to life

If his public image is to be believed, Snoop’s constant smoking habit would keep him in a near-catatonic state–and judging by his less-than half-open eyes during his set, he was fairly well under the influence. Yet, impressively, he didn’t seem to miss a single world. It was an almost athletic feat.

There are a lot gimmicks associated with his persona, including his Willie Nelson-like marijuana association, and they have been magnified through the years. But this persona stands in front of one of the best bodies of work in rap history, so Snoop has been mostly able to avoid reaching the point of self parody. I say “mostly” because he did end his set by yelling “Smoke weed, motherf—ers,” and throwing up peace signs to Bob Marley’s “Jammin’.”

The mood was bright during LL Cool J’s set. He kicked things off with “Mama Said Knock You Out,” and continued with a mix of classics and recent work.

“This is a hip-hop show” he said, and it fit that definition perfectly. Complete with actual DJing and record scratching and b-boys wearing adidas track suits, the shows of LL, at 48 years old, are still a masterclass on hip-hop music and culture.

There was a bit of a lull in the dusk in between RJD2 and the Decembrists–a void left by the cancellation of Mac Miller (for health reasons) while The Decemberists took the stage.  

Even knowing that trends are cyclical, it is still strange to see fads from my childhood return like nostalgia trips. All Time Low’s set was like a 2008 period piece, pop punk’s post-emo golden era. It was an hour-long span where swooped haircuts, skintight jeans and slip-on vans never went out of style.

While I may have scoffed at the band at times, enough time has passed, and enough fans screamed along with it 13 years after forming, that it commanded a certain respect. All Time Low has maintained a loyal fanbase and was one of the most popular acts on Saturday.

Violinist Lindsey Stirling provided the most surreal performance of the day. She twirled and hurled herself around the stage, never missing a step of her precise choreography. Stirling was clad in a black and white checkered outfit and comic book-esque makeup and hairstyle. Intense and theatrical, the performance reached Trans-Siberian Orchestra levels of grandiosity

The Holy White Hounds had the look and sound of a trucker rock band. Its members covered in tattoos, they were the kind of rockers who still thought smoking cigarettes on stage looked cool. Even though they were a bit cliched and overwrought, they sounded very tight and they won me over despite my earlier skepticism.

Alunageorge was the first artist I caught. This British trio makes catchy, bass-heavy electro pop, in a style reminiscent of M.I.A. It sounded like it belonged on the main stage it was playing on, and in a few years I would not be surprised at all to see this group play a much later set time than 2:30 p.m.

While many festivals strive for attractions outside of the music, Promowest Fest put the focus squarely on the acts. With only two stages, each within sight of the other, and just one act performing at a time, the festival maintained intimacy even with the biggest performers. They may be tempted to expand in years to come, but I would argue that this festival is the best one for actually listening to music that I have attended.

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