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In concert: Rock the Bells f. Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest and Lauryn Hill at Merriweather Post Pavilion

wu-tangMethod Man and GZA helped Wu-Tang Clan turn in the best performance at Rock The Bells Sunday. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By David Malitz

Hip-hop may very well be the definitive American music genre and this year’s edition of the Rock The Bells mega-festival looked to stake that claim the old-fashioned way - with a blatant, nostalgia-driven cash in. Some tickets cost upwards of $150 and there were VIP upsells that got you preferred parking, souvenirs and artist meet-and-greets. Most tellingly, the lineup was a who’s who of pre-Internet stars set to perform entire classic albums that most audience members probably originally purchased on cassette. But if reaching middle age means becoming more responsible and reliable, a few of the day’s performers didn’t get that particular memo. Apparently it was the same memo that had the set times, too.

OK, so everyone advertised did perform Sunday at Merriweather Post Pavilion. But it sure was a nail-biter. Lauryn Hill, the eccentric former Fugee who has mostly stayed out of sight since her lone solo album, 1998’s still-scintillating R&B masterpiece “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” was clearly the lineup’s chief curiosity. When it comes to her behavior over the past decade there’s been no rumor too bizarre to believe. Sunday’s rumor was a doozy and it was true - she really was three hours late to the stage because she was getting a manicure-pedicure. Suddenly, her former bandmate Wyclef Jean’s attempt to become president of Haiti doesn’t seem quite so self-centered.

(Photo gallery from Sunday's concert.)

As her 4:30 start time approached, the elaborate stage plot was ready to go. And then ... nothing. A 10-minute wait became a half hour wait, which became a full hour. Scattered heckles became heavy boos as the stage was broken down at 5:30. Meanwhile on the festival’s side stage 22-year-old upstart Wiz Khalifa broke no new ground with his marijuana-based raps but had a few thousand people singing and puffing along to tracks from his latest mixtape, “Kush and Orange Juice.” His charisma currently laps his skill on the microphone but if Rock The Bells continues it’s hard not to see him as a featured act sooner rather than later.

Back at the pavilion mainstage the waiting game continued. After a staggering two hours of silence A Tribe Called Quest hit the stage to the rabid delight of festival-goers dying to hear, well, anything. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg stormed through the majority of the bass-heavy boomers from “Midnight Marauders” in addition to hits such as “Can I Kick It” and “Bonita Applebum.” Instant-party starter Busta Rhymes emerged for “Oh My God” and Q-Tip further upped the showmanship ante by stripping down to just a t-shirt and boxers while performing nearly 20 rows into the crowd. It was a much needed shot in the arm.

(Wu-Tang killer bees and Snoop's late start, after the jump.)

wu-tangAfter two hours of silence, Phife Dawg and Q-Tip were a welcome sight. (Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

lauryn hillLauryn Hill held things up. (Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

Her toenails apparently dry, Lauryn Hill was finally next but she probably shouldn’t have bothered. The performance was a messy rush through many of the highlights from “Miseducation,” but were hardly recognizable due to her hoarse voice, speedy delivery and clunky, overstuffed arrangements. Hill wasn’t lacking for energy, just focus. The feedback on her microphone was ear-splitting; special guest Nas came out for a 45-second cameo and his microphone wasn’t working for half of it. After 20 minutes she departed stage left to an equal mix of cheers and boos, seemingly oblivious as to why anyone might be upset with her.

Wu-Tang Clan erased most of that bad taste and were the clear winners of the evening with an hour-long set that was supposed to be a run-through of "Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers." The performance barely resembled the group’s 1993 classic, but it was a whirlwind of well-executed gang-rapping just the same. Not only was every single living member of the Clan accounted for - a rarity on the level of a complete assembly of the Justice League of America - but Inspectah Deck performed despite his mother dying earlier in the day. After Hill’s earlier shenanigans, the crowd was especially appreciative.

With nine members on stage - Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s son, Boy Jones, filled in for his deceased dad - things sometimes teetered on the brink of chaos, but stayed under control thanks to the Clan’s perfect adherence to their roles. Method Man was the ringleader; Raekwon, Ghostface and GZA the most skilled verse spitters; RZA the proud-looking papa at the back of the stage; Inspectah Deck doing underrated yeoman’s work; U-God, Masta Killa and Cappadonna providing backup.

As headliner Snoop Dogg’s stage props were assembled - that would be a large video screen and a park bench covered in 40s in brown paper bags - and the clock began ticking towards the venue’s 11 p.m. curfew the chatter started again. As a general rule of thumb, chatter at hip-hop shows is not a good thing. Where’s Snoop? He was in New York performing at a Michael Jackson tribute show earlier in the day and at 10:45 p.m. was nowhere to be seen. Boos, again.

He did finally emerge, wearing what seemed to be your grandmother’s old kitchen tablecloth and performed a truncated version of his iconic gangsta rap album “Doggystyle.” Snoop has become such a cartoon character in recent years - reality shows, Katy Perry cameos and lots and lots of weed - that it was a bit bizarre to see him revisit his thug persona. He mostly stayed true to character, never smiling - maybe he was too focused reading his lyrics off teleprompters on stage - but his listless performance gave off the vibe that he’d rather be somewhere else. Like, New York. Snoop drawled over the atomic G-funk of “What’s My Name?,” as the house lights went on, the venue’s not-so-subtle way of saying, “It’s time for you to go now.” It’s hard to think Snoop minded too much.

wu-tangSnoop Dogg eventually showed up to play selections from "Doggystyle." (Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By David Malitz  |  August 30, 2010; 12:52 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: A Tribe Called Quest, Lauryn Hill, Rock The Bells, Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Wu-Tang Clan  
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Comments

I was the concert yesterday and thinks it should be known that A Tribe Called Quest was the best performance of the entire concert. Wu-Tang was very good but the energy and enthusiasm (as the reporter eluded to in his review)was un-matched by any other performance. Sadly, I have decided to not attend any more Rock the Bells concerts, its not worth the aggravation anymore. I will go and see these performers individually when they come to 9:30 Club or Ram's Head.

Posted by: wa123 | August 30, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

When one performer is hours late, and caused the headliner's show to be cut short, someone should apologize, someone should offer some form of payback (future discounts, I don't know) but they are shooting themselves in the foot by letting this crap happen.

Posted by: tojo45 | August 30, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Lauryn was jealous that she was placed so early in the line-up, and this was her plot to be placed closer to the last act.

Posted by: forgetthis | August 30, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Some notes from the show:
(1) As the first poster mentioned, Tribe was BY FAR the best act. Q-Tip, the consummate performer, brought energy to the crowd--wilting in the 95+ degree heat.
(2) Wu-Tang was good, but in a "isn't it great to see everyone together again" kind of way, rather than anything musical. Still, they were lots of fun
(3) No mention of Ms. Hill's wardrobe? What the heck was that? She looked more like Helen Martin (Pearl from "227") than Lauryn Hill. Performance was just awful.
(4) The delays between sets was intolerable. There were two stages--bump someone from stage 2 onto stage 1. Clipse perhaps?
(5) Nas came out for another minute with the Wu-Tang Clan. Would have preferred an hour of him instead of Lauryn Hill and Snoop.

So much promise in this show. It was a great day, but didn't live up to the hype, I'm afraid.

Posted by: Section315 | August 30, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

ATCQ rocked it! Best performance of the night...they saved the show from being a total disaster. Wu was in a close second.(Rakim and KRS were also good, but crowd energy was lacking. Mainly because there were on earlier in the day and people were still filtering in. Oh, but KRS One's ranting with Freddie Fox...yeah coulda done without that!) I always find Supernatural's freestyles entertaining but even the crowd turned on him at one point during our extended wait for L Bamma (can no longer refer to her as L Boogie! lol).

Couldn't stay for all of Snoop's set (I mean it was a "work night"), but it sounds like I didn't miss much. We had already been out there for 10+ hours and some of us over 30 were tired from the heat and getting sleepy! LOL Thank God we were in the pavilion seating, which helped from not being directly in the sun, but still the heat yesterday was insane!

Agree with the previous poster that the wait times in between sets was ridiculous! This was my 3rd year going to RTB and this year just didn't seem to flow, they didn't keep the performances going. It was actually more like two and a half hours between when DJ Premier and ATCQ...just ridiculous! And waiting an hour for Snoop to come out there really looking like he didn't want to be there.
I am not that big of a Lauryn Hill fan, but after yesterday's fiasco I will not support her. That was rude and inconsiderate and like the article said, it was so awful it would have been better for her not to perform at all.

Considering that the ticket prices went up this year, I was disappointed. Don't think RTB will be getting my money next year...sorry!

Posted by: tamrock25 | August 30, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Tribe was incredible. I will certainly be back to Rock the Bells if they're back on the lineup.

Question for everyone else who went. What time did Snoop end up finishing his set? Also, how was Slick Rick? I wanted to see him but the line to get in was ridiculous so i missed him.

Posted by: Jesse26 | August 30, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Inspectah Deck >>>> lauryn hill and snoop

Posted by: 3tripleiii | August 30, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Snoop killed it - he had the best show of the night (although it was inexcusably late). His performance wasn't "listless" - it was laid-back, true to his West Coast OG persona. He embraced the "album in its entirety" theme far more than any other performer by recreating virtually the whole album, track by track - including bringing out almost all the original guests on Doggystyle and tying the performance together with video clips dramatizing the spoken interludes on the album. Snoop and Lauryn Hill were the only artists to use a full band and, no disrespect to DJs, this dramatically filled out the sound of their sets (in Lauryn's case, the band really carried her performance as she was struggling through some vocal issues). One disappointment I had with Snoop's actual performance that Snoop didn't cover "Ladi Dadi" or "Doggy Dogg World," two of the best tracks on the album. With respect to "Ladi Dadi," I guess he didn't want to perform it on the same bill as Slick Rick, who originated the song. "Doggy Dogg World" relies so heavily on the vocals from the Dramatics that I guess Snoop didn't think he could do it justice without their vocals - but given that he had already had committted to a full band and that "Doggy Dogg World" is one one of his major hits, I would have liked to have seen him try to pull it off. One other disappointment was that the crowd really thinned out after Wu-Tang, which sucked a lot of life out of the venue during Snoop's set.

ATCQ really stepped up to the plate and brought the crowd back to life with an awesome set after we had been waiting 2+ hours because of the Lauryn Hill fiasco.

KRS was great - a legend still in top form.

Supernatural was the hero of the day by coming through with mind-blowing freestyles to keep the crowd from going crazy during the long stretches between sets.

Posted by: jonc1211 | August 30, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

I apologize in advance for the length of this comment, but I've got to get this off my chest: I was so excited to spend my Sunday enjoying great Hip Hop music with good friends. I left exhausted and disappointed.

Ms. Lauryn's No-Show at her scheduled set time was really alienating. To learn today that she was getting her nails done makes it a laughable act of unprofessionalism, bordering on mental instability. Showing up three hours after her set-time, looking like someone's dementia-ed grandmother (no offense to those with dementia or their loved ones, but if my grandmother was still alive and had dementia, I would keep her as far from a concert stage as possible.) and rushing through her songs, double time was just bizarre. Something is really wrong there. (This morning, I googled "What's wrong with Lauryn Hill" and got 55,000 entries.)

I have to agree with a few of the previous posters that Tribe Called Quest absolutely KILLED it. Their energy and showmanship electrified a crowd that was hot and infuriated at Ms. Lauryn's Diva-No-Show. It was the absolute highlight of the day, and if not for their performance, I would really be furious that I had spent my money and time at that clusterf**k of a music festival.

I remember loving 36 Chambers in the nineties and the Wu Tang Clan's Performance was solid, but I was really distracted by the fact that there were about 40 people on the stage the entire time. The whole thing seemed really chaotic and I was ready for it to be over already.

The wait for Snoop's set (after so much waiting throughout the afternoon and evening) was fairly insufferable, but I was ready for a great finish to an uneven concert event. Sigh. Snoop was alright, but his set seemed quick and perfunctory, and the people on the side drinking and playing cards did nothing to enhance the pageantry of the experience. It also bothered me that Snoop was wearing a blue bandana prison-style jump suit. I think that it is widely accepted that he is a Crip, or somehow affiliated, but I have a problem with this kind of posturing. (I have a feeling that I am going to get eviscerated for this, but whatever.) Maybe I'm square, but I don't think that gangs are cool or hard. (For the record, I am Black and in my thirties.)

Overall, the wait times were unprofessional and the performances were uneven. I will see Tribe Called Quest whenever they are in town, but Rock the Bells won't get my money or time ever again.

Posted by: veegraham | August 30, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

One thing I forgot to mention in the review as to why I thought Snoop was listless - not only did he show up minutes before playing (he played in New York that afternoon even though he was booked as a headliner for a show people paid $150 to see that night) - but his lyrics were all scrolling on teleprompters on stage! Thought that was a bad look.

As for Wu over Tribe, it was a close call, but I liked Wu's power in numbers. The hundred people (it was close to that many) on stage watching them made it feel like more of an event. But Tribe was great, too, of course. That was the LEAST surprising part of the day.

Posted by: DavidMalitz | August 30, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Wu vs Tribe was the argument in our car on our long trek back to NC. I vote Wu.

This is probably the most accurate review of the show I've seen yet, nice job.

I think it would have been beneficial for you to see more acts on the Paid Dues stage. Wiz Khalifa was actually the only set that bored me over there. Everyone else I saw was insane! And the energy level never left. I was rocking so hard to Street Sweeper Social Club, I knowingly missed the first part of Tribe’s set because I couldn’t bring myself to leave the hypest act I’d seen all day. (maybe that’s why I voted Wu)

I also want to remark on how Inspectah Deck’s on-time, razor sharp performance hours after losing his mother puts Lauryn Hill’s diva antics & hasty, disjointed act in full perspective. She just lost one...fan.

Posted by: eezytreezy | August 31, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I love the Wu like the next man, but like Q-tip said that was Tribe's house that night. Tribe was the best performance of the day hands down!!!

Posted by: kola3000 | August 31, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

That was my 3rd and final Rock the Bells Concert.

The delay from lauryn's "sickness" and now to find out she was getting a mani-pedi, just adds more salt to the wound and makes me more irritated. When I saw her announced to be on the bill, I called it. She won't perform or be the Whitney Houston of hip-hop, which she proved in her set, with hoarse vocals and scattered performance and I stood during her set to support her because I figured "at least she came out even if she was sick" and now hearing she wasn't, is just aggravating.

ATCQ walked into hostile territory and gave in my opinion the best performance next to Wu. They killed it! Those two perfomances were the highlight for me and I knew they wouldn't let me down.

Snoop, well by the time he came on, I was beyond ready to go. I saw him on the "Up in Smoke" tour and after the wait,I didn't need to stay.
After the price hike, delays and Lauryn Drama unless Tribe or Wu-Tang is set to perform, No more Rock Da Bells for me.

Posted by: Enygma0710 | September 1, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

I got to Rock the Bells early this year because I wanted to see Slick Rick. I loved pretty much all of the acts except Lauryn Hill and (shockingly because I'm a fan) DJ Premier. To have Primo come on stage and ask if we were ready for Rakim when Rakim had already been onstage was bad enough. The he kind of went through a couple of songs and left.

Lauryn Hill will never get another dime of my money. I don't care if she does an album 10 time better than the Miseducation. What makes is worse is that they lied to us telling us she was sick.

Tribe and The Wu saved the show. Bringing out Busta Rhymes and Nas also was a highlight for me.

Overall, I liked the show but the one in 08 with De La Soul was much better.

Posted by: beardwn85 | September 1, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Most of you seem to say that you are not coming back to RTB because of the delays but really the only painful delay there was lauryn hill and snoop dogg, two of which have barely been on a RTB stage. I personally don't think that's a good reason not to come back but it's your choice.

This was my first time to RTB and i thought the vibe was just amazing. I was happy that so many people came to see legends. Buying front row seats was worth it to see all those people on stage on the same day.

Like everybody that day, i was SOOOOOO disappoited in Lauryn Hill. This is an example of why she hasn't been on the road for so long.

The best performance IMO was ATCQ hands down. It was the only performance where i was sweating at end. WU killed and Snoop was alright but during his performance, i was standing next to Wiz Khalifa so i guess that made up for it a little bit.

Anyway, we'll see what the line up is next year before i decide whether to come again. It's most likely i will go because i love the vibe of so many hip hop heads being there are the same time.

Posted by: Decapitatah | September 1, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Decapitatah,

I also loved the vibe of the show, young and middle-aged music lovers representing many races and cultures sharing a day filled with Hip Hop. I brought my daughter to the show and was thrilled to be able to share the music that was such an important part of my life.

I love all kinds of music and go to see concerts whenever I can afford to. $150 (plus at least $50 in consessions) is a lot of money for me. It is up to the producers of this event to keep things running smoothly so that the attendees walk away feeling that they had a great experience. I think that most customers are patient and understanding when mild delays occur, but this was just egregious. Even though there were great moments in the day, having two of the four headliners perform ridiculously late is unprofessional and inconsiderate. I have never been to a music festival that was so poorly run. I walked away feeling that I just given my money to a bunch of amateurs who couldn't get their sh*t together.

So, no, they won't get my money again. (Unless Tribe is the headliner. Okay, this is the line-up I'll consider: Pharcyde, De La Soul, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Tribe Called Quest and Outkast (including Andre 3000). Then I'll consider it. But until they put together a line-up of professional performers who know how to move a crowd, they won't see me.)

Posted by: veegraham | September 1, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

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