January 20, 2024

Black Pumas and Digable Planets played Radio City Music Hall

Black Pumas and Digable Planets played to a sold-out Radio City Music Hall.

It's not often that an opening act is the main draw for me to attend a show, but Digable Planets opening at Radio City Music Hall wasn't something I was ready to pass up. The pioneering jazz-rap trio has been making the rounds for years as they've revived their '90s boom-bap rap for a new era while still bringing the funky freshness like only they can. Backed with a killer live band that brought those killer grooves to life, the group tossed and traded verses with the easiest flows, rapping back and forth in style, their swagger permeating their beings even if at times the crowd wasn't responding back. Playing the opening set to a large, and at that point in the night, rather empty room is tough and the venue's massive size often swallowed up the band's sound making for the energy to feel a little flat. Still, when the groove hit the band seized the opportunity and made for a swinging good time. "It's Good to Be Here" and "Where I'm From" brought breezy vibes and more of their hipster enthusiasm to life and "Jettin'" also brought out more of their funkified beats. As they closed out their set with their timeless hit "Cool Like That," the crowd finally responded with the proper praise and people rose to their feet to boogie on down for one last tune.

Taking the stage for their headlining set, Black Pumas, the duo of singer Eric Burton and guitarist Adrian Quesada, were joined by an extensive live band that transformed their neo-soul turned rock and roll into a technicolor experience full of life and elation. Often, Black Pumas' music can come across as overproduced with their high-gloss sheen sounding designed specifically for commodification, waiting to be used in a commercial, and lacking any real substance. Written entirely for late-night television performances or to be performed at countless award shows that bare no real meaning. (It still blows my mind how the band was nominated for Grammys three years in a row for, virtually, one album, but that's more of a critique on the Grammys and not the band themselves.) There are few moments that really spark creativity or anything original, but even that being said, they still have a knack for at least sounding incredible. There's no detail left untouched (for better or worse) and their inclusion of soul and funk with their basic rock makes for something that's at least interesting and rather enjoyable, even if it's rather static. If there is a band that does have to fill this need, I'm glad it's them. On stage, Burton's voice is immaculate, his range a stunning object of desire, and his control was head spinning. "Know You Better" was the first all-star moment of the night when the band displayed the strength of their powers and why their live show is the heart of the act. Their prowess was commanding and Burton's voice reached new heights that once again showcased his remarkable talents and "Black Moon Rising" was another stellar highlight. "Ice Cream (Pay Phone)," a popular jam for their recent sophomore record, was another crowd pleaser, but not one that strikes with the same elevated skill as the others, but to see the crowd eat it up was a treat in and of itself. "More Than a Love Song" brought the magic back and had the band sparkling on that massive stage while the sold-out crowd grooved along with the hits of psychedelic splendor and dashes of funk that add the needed layers and textures to the rather poppy overtones that can saturate the tracks. By the time the band closed with their smash "Colors," the crowd was fully bought in and it was clear to see why the love and admiration for the group goes so hard, but it was also one of the first times in the night where I noticed the crowd actually singing the words back to the band. As a fun surprise, Burton re-appeared for the encore on the side of the auditorium, half-way up to the balcony and did so alone with his guitar to drop an astounding cover of Tracey Chapman's classic "Fast Car" and it was the immediate highlight of the show. As he rejoined the band for one final number, the crowd again reveled in the moment and sent the band off with a core memory that they'll seem to embrace for a long time to come. 

Digable Planets set list:

01 "Slowes' Comb / The May 4th Movement starring Doodlebug"
02 "It's Good to Be Here"
03 "Where I’m From"
04 "Pacifics"
05 "What Cool Breezes Do"
06 "Escapism (Gettin’ Free)"
07 "Jettin’"
08 "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)"

Black Pumas set list:

01 "Fire"
02 "Gemini Sun"
03 "Know You Better"
04 "Black Moon Rising"
05 "Sauvignon"
06 "Ice Cream (Pay Phone)"
07 "Angel"
08 "More Than a Love Song"
09 "Confines"
10 "Mrs. Postman"
11 "OCT 33"
12 "Colors"
13 "Fast Car" [Tracy Chapman cover]
14 "Rock and Roll"

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