Portland has traditionally been a tour destination for national rappers who hit their career peaks some time ago. Artists such as Snoop Dogg and Wu-Tang Clan have considerable skill, but they’re also coasting on credibility earned during the Clinton administration. Lately, however, the State Theatre – with some help and audience reach provided by Hot 104.7 – has been bringing in rappers whose careers are on the ascendance. Southern Maine’s vibrant hip-hop scene has responded, first by selling out the J.Cole show on April 6, and now by providing a large, enthusiastic crowd for Action Bronson’s performance.
The affection was mutual. The gregarious MC from Queens, New York, spent a generous amount of time slapping five and fist-bumping fans at the cusp of the stage, tossing out T-shirts, and expressing his love for Portland. At one point, he caught a fan shooting a video, grabbed the phone, rapped an entire verse into it, and handed it back – a gesture that stands in stark contrast to stick-in-the-mud, Generation X indie-rockers such as Mark Kozelek and Neutral Milk Hotel who recently enforced no-phone policies. Action Bronson was about giving his fans a good time, however they wanted to have it.
He did all this while sauntering about the stage, spitting hard rhymes with furious, karate-chopping arm gestures. Despite having several mixtapes to his name, he kept his set close to his debut album, Mr. Wonderful, opening with the Billy Joel-sampling “Brand New Car” and closing the main set with “Easy Rider.” “Terry” may have fared the best, allowing his Ghostface Killah-like flow to luxuriate over a smooth guitar sample, but the crowdpleasers leaned more to the bonecrunching beats of songs such as “The Rising.”
Action Bronson currently has a minor hit with “Baby Blue,” a song about complicated relationships that is set to a bouncy, piano-fueled beat and features the rapper taking on some goofy, boisterous singing in the chorus. For these reasons, the track recalls “Just a Friend,” Biz Markie’s 1989 left-field smash, and Action Bronson is wise enough to draw the connection, splicing the Biz’s song into the end of “Baby Blue” – a clever touch that was sadly performed in lieu of Chance the Rapper’s sublime guest verse.
The show’s major drawback was that it was too short. The evening was filled out by an unbilled if not unwelcome opening performance by Meyhem Lauren – joining Action Bronson and Big Body Bes to represent a strong contingent of New York City’s current generation of rappers. The main set was startlingly short and sent the audience home by 10:30 p.m., which is abrupt for a rap show. Action Bronson closed the show with “Amadu Diablo,” a song that heavily samples Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.” He sang Chapman’s chorus, “give me one reason to stay here, and I’ll turn right back around,” making it into a joke about having eaten too many lobster rolls that afternoon. As he left the stage, however, fans no doubt wanted him to turn back around himself, and keep the good time going.
WHO: Action Bronson
WHERE: State Theatre, Portland
WHEN: April 29