Live: Hennessy Artistry
The Roots, Common, ELIZABETH the Band, Makano, Big Daddy Kane, & Al B. Sure!

The Roots pic #1
The Roots. Photo by Daniel Yuan.

THE CORINTHIAN -- 10/3/2009: The other Friday night, while the ears of Texas were tuned into Austin for ACL, downtown Houston rocked a Hennessy Artistry event at The Corinthian. Granted, I've only been to a handful of hip-hop concerts, but co-curators Common and The Roots helped craft one of the best concerts I've ever heard.
First, The Corinthian: a neoclassical special event venue built in 1905. This isn't a club or even a concert hall but a place that hosts Houston's social elites for occasions such as dinner with Queen Elizabeth II or Houston Grand Opera galas. I can't imagine cognac-fueled hip-hop concerts are on The Corinthian's normal event calendar. Much respect to Hennessy, however, for choosing such a clever venue and for providing enough free cognac to win over any remaining doubters.
ELIZABETH the Band pic #1
Toneda Laiwan of ELIZABETH the Band. Photo by Daniel Yuan.

The evening opened with ELIZABETH the Band, a rock quartet from New York that combines the powerful R&B vocals of Toneda Laiwan with some very '90s Pacific Northwest grunge instrumentals. This really wasn't ELIZABETH the Band's target audience, and it showed, as the crowd was initially unimpressed. Good music is good music, though, and by the end of the set, the band received a warm applause for a good effort.
Enough of the fusion rock; this night was all about hip-hop, and that was clear as the crowd packed in when ?uestlove made his way to the stage with Black Thought and sousaphone player Damon Bryson. From here on out, The Roots served as the house band and displayed an impressive array of musical talent by backing up Common, singer Makano, and both surprise guests.
Common pic #1
Common & The Roots. Photo by Daniel Yuan.

Watching the Roots work is awe-inspiring. Their performance manages technical precision without being soulless and unnatural, all while transmitting energy from the stage without being out of control and distracting. The Roots' performance as the house band was staggering, especially considering how the music seamlessly transitioned from song to song and even artist to artist without any breaks. Kind of makes you wonder if they're bored playing for Jimmy Fallon...
Someone who certainly isn't bored is Common. Common performed a nice combination of new and old, while managing to throw in a cover of Nas's "N.Y. State of Mind" for good measure. He must be the hardest-working man in hip-hop, endlessly bouncing across the stage in a flurry of rhymes and hand gestures. The crowd absolutely loved him, and it's easy to see why: this man loves his music and wants everyone to know it.
So far, so good...until Makano appeared on stage. An hour-and-a-half into the show, the Panamanian reggaeton artist appeared on stage and performed what felt like three songs, two of which were his hit single "Te Amo." If the crowd had a hard time accepting ELIZABETH the Band, then they flat-out rejected Makano.
Big Daddy Kane pic #1
Big Daddy Kane & The Roots. Photo by Daniel Yuan.

Reggaeton isn't my thing, but even I was shocked to see someone do so much damage to a crowd in such little time. I don't know if the crowd thought Common and The Roots were finished, but before Makano finished his first song, a fifth of the crowd left the venue, and by the time he finished his second rendition of "Te Amo," a third of the crowd was gone.
It's a damn shame, especially considering that special guests Big Daddy Kane and Al B. Sure! performed 20 minutes after Makano. I can't list a single song by Big Daddy Kane's, but I'm well aware of his reputation as one of the greatest of all time. Kane's reputation is well-deserved: the speed and flow of his rhyming, as well as his ability to work the crowd, put him in contention for performance of the night. Al B. Sure! was clearly the crowd favorite, however, as I saw men and women literally run towards the stage when the guy made his way up to the microphone. It was a nice mix of artists before the Roots closed out the show.
The Roots pic #2
The Roots. Photo by Daniel Yuan.

For all the great things to come from this show, the biggest disappointment of the night was not on the stage but in the crowd. After the three-hour set was over, it felt as if two-thirds of the crowd had left. The show didn't end too late, and all bars and clubs were packed and still open. I kept asking myself, "Where the hell did everyone go? What could possibly be better than this -- a free show featuring The Roots, Common, and a hell of a lot of free alcohol?" It's tremendously disappointing, especially considering Houston's reputation as a Southern hip-hop stronghold. It's almost enough to convince me that we deserve our reputation of being just another bland and generic city.
Audience aside, though, the Roots certainly lived up to the hype, with the help of Common and Big Daddy Kane. When it comes down to it, it wouldn't have mattered if the venue was filled with 10,000 people or just one: this was a brilliant event. END