June 16, 2012
Better than: Watching reruns of Juice on TV.
Oakland's own Digital Underground is the group that gave a young Tupac Shakur his first significant start in the music business. But if not for the Black Panther Party, there probably wouldn't have been a Shakur (who was born into the organization) or a Digital Underground (key member Money B's father is Panther Bobby McCall). So Saturday night's Tupac birthday party at Yoshi's, led by DU and with proceeds benefiting the National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party, (NAABPP) made perfect sense.
Surviving Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale briefly took the stage to reiterate an unwavering commitment to fighting "the system," but that was pretty much the only serious moment of the night. The dancefloor was not full of activists -- heck, even Money B's father was wearing a Humpty Dance T-shirt. People came to throw their twos in the air for the late Shakur, who would have turned 41 that day.
Surprise cameos made for some pretty extraordinary people watching, including a two minute stage turn by George Clinton, almost unrecognizable in a sharp white suit and sans his distinctive rainbow wig; he and Digital Underground's frontman Shock G belted out a few "Shit, goddamn, get off your ass and jams," and then Clinton disappeared out the side door as fast as he came. San Francisco blues musician Fillmore Slim, once one of the West Coast's most commanding pimps (as detailed in the 1999 documentary American Pimp), was decked out in snakeskin finery (or was it alligator?). He also jumped on stage to say hello as Shock G snapped pics.
Digital Underground performed a fairly standard set; the band always peppers a performance with the Tupac songs they were a part of, like his first solo single, "Same Song," and "So Many Tears." We had hoped to hear a few anecdotes about the late rap legend, but the banter in between songs was surprisingly minimal. Oddly, the Tupac moments didn't receive as much fanfare as the band's own songs, like "Kiss You Back" and "The Humpty Dance." The latter was amusing to see on such a small stage, for it is a dance that could use some more room for prancing.
Horrendous sound problems plagued the evening -- the person in charge of the sound seemed to have stepped out for a blunt or something -- but the band cool about it; Shock G even tried to match the sound of terrible feedback with his voice, singing over it until the problem was detected.
It was a loud, messy night. Tupac would have loved it.
Personal bias: I've seen Digital Underground many times in concert over the past 20 years.
Random detail: There were a lot of self-centered, aggressive women in the crowd who had no problem shoving aside someone smaller.
By the way: Snoop Dogg has committed to play Fillmore Slim in his life story.