Jedi Mind Tricks @ Hawthorne Theater, Portland, OR
written by Josh Potter, October 6th, 2006
Trickier Than Convincing Stormtroopers to Allow C3PO and R2D2 Through an Imperial Checkpoint
Maybe it was due to the fact that the rainy season is just beginning to settle into Portland, a climate better suited for the weepy, emotional posturing of the local Indie scene than the raw, body-shaking hip-hop of South Philadelphia. Or maybe it was the legion of fourteen-year-olds in front of the stage arguing over who was "faking the funk" and who was more hyphy. One way or another, when Jedi Mind Tricks took to the stage at Portland's Hawthorne Theater on October 6 th something was amiss.
For shit sure it wasn't the fault of anyone on stage. Despite recurrent technical difficulties with the microphone mix, JMT rode the hip-hop-meets-heavy-metal assault of its new album Servants in Hell, Kings in Hell straight out on stage. Vinnie Paz was the dictionary definition of charismatic. Celebrated for his smart, uncompromising flow, he's the kind of MC that doesn't need to act a fool on stage to get the audience's attention. Although his verbiage is a little slimmer than in the Psycho-Social, Chemical... days as the Verbal Hologram, his flow is still cool and concise. Draped in a towel, a step or two behind the full glow of stage lights, his demeanor is more that of an artist than a showman. He's the kind of MC I want to follow offstage and listen to order pizza or read off the five-day forecast. And like any great artist he knows when to step back. With members of Outerspace on his right and left, he could float easy knowing the hype wouldn't stop.
Maybe it had something to do with expectations. Certainly the chant of "get your guns up!" was enough to send a few dreadies to the back of the room. Although the tack JMT has taken with its new material comes as little surprise in light of recent releases, it's still a deviation from the spacey, late 90's boom-bap that made them the definitive underground sound. Still, even when a couple old beats were dusted off and cut smack-dab in the middle of signature hooks, only a handful in the seemingly nostalgic crowd could muster any knowing response.
An hour into their set they simply walked off.
Maybe R.A. the Rugged Man had something to do with it. True to his claim of being a "one man army," he had the potential for being a perfect opening act. Larger than life, with a wide-brim hat and trench coat, R.A. had the kids moving. "You will not see this shit on MTV," he proclaimed. "You will not see this on BET. You will not see this coming out of Kanye West's mouth." Paying homage to his forebears with the edge of a seasoned yet slighted battle rapper, he reminded the crowd that this was underground hip-hop that this was progressive shit. But then the hat came off. And then the coat. And then *gasp* the shirt. Out came the jelly-rolls. Was that a neck-tie dangling from his head? Sadly, yes. The songs funneled down to their predictable and embarrassing hooks. Audience members turned bashfully away. "Lick Pussy." "Get Dumb." "Every Record Label Sucks Dick." When he pulled two girls on stage and tugged on one's shirt the crowd booed outright. But not to go gently into the night, R.A. made one mad Jack Black dash through the crowd and disappeared.
But hey, with that kind of start the only direction to go is up, right? Kind of. Jedi Mind Tricks is not to be written off. The beauty of a live performance is the sacrifice an artist makes to step up and do their thing live, to lay themselves on the line and build that energy you don't feel just walking down the street every day. After realizing the good thing they were passing up the crowd broke into cheers of "Jedi Mind!" and with ten of the most beautiful women in the room on stage beside them JMT delivered the best antidote for a cold fall night a hot and sweaty encore.