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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Last Night: Cypress Hill at the Fillmore

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 10:43 AM

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Cypress Hill
Fillmore Auditorium
April 20, 2009
Better than:
reruns of Scooby-Doo

Seeing Cypress Hill live in concert on 4/20, at 4:20, is a somewhat surreal experience. It's kind of like the Super Bowl for stoners. If you thought pot smoking was epidemic at an average Fillmore Auditorium show, imagine being present at what amounts to the High Holy Day for cannabis lovers as hip-hop's most blunted band takes the storied stage.

Following a warm-up set by Psycho Realm, Cypress Hill took the stage precisely at 4:20 p.m. By 4:21, there wasn't a soul in the house who hadn't caught a contact high. Everywhere you looked, people were firing up bowls, smoking blunts, and puffing joints. This being Northern California, the quality factor of the weed being smoked was quite high indeed - a point not lost on Cypress frontman B-Real.

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"Y'all are some of the highest people in the world. That's why I keep coming back to the Bay," he said while catching his breath after an opening salvo which included "Hand on the Pump," "Real Estate," and "the first song we (B-Real and sidekick Sen Dog) ever wrote together," "Phuncky Feel One."

The Cypress classics took everyone back to 1991-92, when the band exploded on the music scene with their eponymous debut album. The combination of B-Real's slightly nasal delivery, Sen's booming baritone, and the psychedelic samples of DJ Muggs appealed not only to hip-hop heads, but to stoner rock fans as well. The band not only sold a shitload of albums, but their merch became fashionable as well--they may have been the only rap group around at that time to sell ¾-sleeve baseball jerseys and tie-dies--and their stylized skull logo became as ubiquitous to that era as Phillies blunts and 40-ouncers of St. Ides.

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Crossing over to arena rock crowds not only expanded Cypress Hill's audience, it may have extended their careers. The fact of the matter is, the Southern California outfit puts on a hell of a live show, and though newer material hasn't received the same sort of fanfare as their first three albums, it all sounded pretty great Monday afternoon. Cypress dug deep into their catalog for songs like "Illusions," "Stoned is the Way of the Walk," and "Hits from the Bong," and the performance peaked with a Latin segment which included "Latin Lingo," "Tequila Sunrise," and a Sen Dog solo number, all of which benefited from percussionist Eric Bobo's syncopated mastery. Another highlight came during an instrumental segment in which Bobo dueted with DJ Julio G. (another West Coast legend), alternating conga riffs and turntable scratches.

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B-Real is one of the most underrated emcees in rap, yet he's charismatic enough--and has enough stage presence--to hold an audience's attention for the majority of an hour-plus show. Sen Dog is a talented lyricist in his own right, and no momentum was lost during his solo turns, but he's at his best echoing B-Real's lines, emphasizing phrases like "ya better be ready!," and "puffing on a blunt!" Watching these two trade lines and move from side to side, their camaraderie and mutual respect became evident. And despite the comedic, Cheech & Chong-esque shtick of pot-affirming tunes like "Dr. Greenthumb," Cypress Hill have kept it real: they may have been the first hip-hop group to use the phrase "Rodney King" as a verb, and their anti-authoritarian song "Pigs" could be referenced every time a crooked cop makes the news.

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One reason for Cypress Hill's continued relevance is that the themes which underpinned their emergence in the '90s--love of marijuana, pride for their Latin heritage, and the hardcore realities of street life--have only gotten more relevant over time. Cypress Hill advocated for the legalization of marijuana long before Prop 215 became a reality; similarly, the Latino-ization of America has become both a pop culture phenomenon and resulted in heated political debates over immigration issues; at the same time, the "gang problem" native to south Central L.A. hasn't gone anywhere. On Monday afternoon, B-Real and Sen Dog showed why they haven't gone anywhere, either.

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Critic's Notebook

Random Detail: 420-ness was definitely in the house; one fan dressed up as a package of Zig-Zags.

Personal Bias:
I own the 12-inch single of "Hits From the Bong."

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Eric Arnold

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