Before you even hear about the Mos Def show — which, by the rating, you can tell was pretty much amazing — I have to gush about The Shrine. In my seven years of reviewing shows and seeing bands in drastically different environments, I have never been anywhere like this place. Right when you walk through the door, the vibe is so chill that it’s like Xanax in venue form. Everyone’s just there to have a good time, no one messes with each other, and the stage is on top of the bar! But the venue’s magnetism rests in its old school mentality (check out this hallway if you don't believe me), and that’s why it’s so easy to fall in love with The Shrine… they’re keeping real hip-hop music alive and well.
Until Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) took the stage, we were becoming a bit restless due to the lack of an opener. In retrospect, though, it seems like this was a good thing as Yasiin churned out a set longer than we would’ve seen/heard from him at any festival or, say, the House of Blues. With two DJs in tow, the hip-hop legend performed a lengthy set packed full of material from The Ecstatic and "whatever he wanted to do," as he said he would do at one point in the night when the audience started hurling requests at him. He made us laugh when he called himself a “mildly stubborn” performer, reminding us that Yasiin Bey is more than just sheer skill and flawless flow… he’s all wit as well.
Opening up with “The Embassy,” Yasiin Bey covered the stage and tended to his crowd while doling out an impeccable flow. If you thought he sounded amazing in the recording studio, then you need to work on seeing him onstage. He dances and sings like a champ, but to truly appreciate what Bey does, you have to be in the room to really feel his energy. When you’re watching a true artist, they can make you lose yourself for however long they want to do their thing for, and that’s exactly what he does. Time doesn’t exist when Yasiin Bey is onstage — it’s just you and him and a warmth few artists exude in modern day hip-hop.
photo by Neil Miller, Jr.
Bey's set consisted of mostly Ecstatic material and some deep cuts, but it was the Ecstatic stuff that really got us moving. The second the opening horns of “Twilite Speedball” echoed out over the crowd, I felt like I could’ve taken on the world. “Life in Marvelous Times” had the heads bobbing venue-wide, and a surprising “Workers Comp” was an unexpected inclusion that I was beyond excited to hear. One thing is certain, he knows what his best album is, and he catered to that knowledge unequivocally with his setlist.
photo by Neil Miller, Jr.
After a 15-minute dance-fest from Bey at the tail end of his set, he bowed to his two DJs and exited stage right. I waited over 10 years to see this legend of hip-hop live, and on this particular night and in this particular venue, it was worth every year. Watching him command and orchestrate his set through his DJs reminded me so much of how Prince directs his band through his sets or how Jack White used to manage Meg White for their White Stripes shows. You never know what you’ll get from these artists when you see them live, and that’s precisely what makes them true artists. Next time Yasiin Bey comes around, you can bet that I’ll be there, and if there’s any good in this world, he’ll be killing The Shrine’s stage again.