Whilst somewhat entertaining, Bey’s set was mostly unfamiliar and rarely made good on the evening’s promise.
Arguably, ‘Black On Both Sides’ is one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. I needn’t go into any specific detail here, since several critics have already beaten me to the punch. But what I will say is that as a listener, music-lover and fan of the artist, it’s pretty much what stirred my interest in the genre to begin with; an album of conscious, witty lyricism and clever instrumentation. It is therefore a great disappointment to say that its fifteenth anniversary show at the O2 Academy fell short of expectation.
The show was certainly built up to Bristol’s biggest events of the year – which only lately seems to have paled after Snoop Dogg was announced for later this month – a veritable hip-hop extravaganza, with a lengthy bill of artists and DJs in tow. But despite the party atmosphere starting early, with Sip The Juice DJs, Cheeba & Money$hot and Keith Murray, it was clear people were here primarily for the man himself.
Entering across a path of sprinkled rose petals and opening with a barely recognisable ‘Fear Not of Man’, you’d be easily fooled into think Bey was taking you through a linear rendition of the album. After applause and a few simmering cheers from the audience, a breakneck transition to ‘Mathematics’ shocked the crowd to life.
It was a set of highs and lows from then on. Snippets of fan favourites – ‘Ms. Fat Booty’, ‘Love’, ‘Speed Law’ – occasionally surfaced in surprising ways amidst a set of unfamiliar, chopped and screwed beats. These moments of clarity were by far the most enjoyable as the rest came off a bit confusing. There was dancing, more rose petals, spinning and barely audible speeches about love, peace and other things that ultimately didn’t quite meet the ear.
Whether Bey actually performed the album in its entirety though is perhaps my main criticism of the night. ‘Do It Now’, ‘Mr. Nigga’ and ‘Rock N Roll’, if they had been included in the set, flew completely under the radar or were so deformed that they couldn’t be accounted for either way.
A lot can change in fifteen years and a lot can stay the same. Certainly Bey’s set, whilst somewhat entertaining, was mostly unfamiliar and rarely made good on the evening’s promise. Whilst some may disagree with this verdict, enraptured by the party atmosphere, it doesn’t seem appropriate to disregard these points as trifling criticisms either; the omission of several tracks, choice samples and guest spots made for a poor reflection on the album’s otherwise undeniable legacy.
Check out ‘Fear Not Of Man’ right here: