De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, PM Dawn: Wembley Hall, London

DIRE STRAITS fans are huddled in masses in the near vicinity, oblivious to the fact that the real revolution is being televised in this makeshift aircraft hangar.

Why, one microblast of PM Dawn’s ‘Reality Used To Be A Friend Of Mine’ might even change the way they see, hear and think – musically, of course. On second thoughts, perhaps not. Prince B, DJ Minutemix and Mack Daddy at the sound-desk are having problems translating the blissed-out, mellow and right-on vibe of their monumental LP into live currency, the least of which is replacing those ecstatic harmonies with tuneless warbling.

At least PM Dawn act the part. For some obscure reason, they’re flanked by three abled-bodied and agile female dancers whose grasp of choreography makes ’em look graceless. And the ‘old school’ side of their personalities that surfaces from time to time endears them to the gathered fly girls and B-boys, but seems incongruous when rubbing against floating houses of tunes like ‘Set Adrift On Memory Bliss’. The beat ‘n’ scratch-heavy ‘Comatose’ is much more suited to the old ways of gearing up the crowd.

Once you get beyond the limitations of live hip-hop, then A Tribe Called Quest dazzle. Beyond the crunchy, buzzing sounds and the all-too-frequent interjections, there’s something off-kilter but engaging going on here. The Abstract Poet Q-Tip and the more ravenous Phife provide a visual feast with the minimum of props – they just joust verbally and prowl the stage. At the helm, DJ AM Mohammed offers up some jazz-tinged soundscapes that bode well for the new LP they’re showcasing. Just savour those low-end frequencies.

It’s a blessing that ‘The Infamous Date Rape’ comes out mumbled as it’s their only concession to macho bullshit. ‘Bugging Out’, with its twisting and turning rhymes, and the gently parodic ‘Jazz (We Got It)’, show that Phife and Q-Tip’s verbal interplay is quite unrivalled even when they’re freestyling. Maybe A Tribe Called Quest are really an Afrocentric version of Rumblefish with a little Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe thrown in. They’re certainly honing their act with excess wit and know-how.

Reports might lead you to believe that De La Soul are toothless old gnomes in a setting like this, but those just misconstrue the fact that they approach live hip-hop differently from merely reproducing vinyl highs. Dressed as parodies of minstrels in hooped vests, their craft shows just how much they owe those far-off days in the South Bronx, albeit on a larger scale. The songs are turned around until almost unrecognisable and replaced with a series of exhortations to dance or wave your arms in the air.

As entertainment goes this is difficult to fault, but anyone searching for a filling musical meal would be left unsated as they don’t leave enough spaces for dub moves and there’s a lot of clutter. Still, it’s easy to understand why more people flock to see De La Soul than anyone in hip-hop bar Public Enemy – they’re a bundle of fun and joy and positive vibrations.

© Dele FadeleNew Musical Express, 5 October 1991

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