Lupe Fiasco at Mesa Amphitheatre Last Night

Lupe Fiasco

Mesa Amphitheater, Mesa
Thursday, April 20, 2011

Lupe Fiasco's music falls somewhere between rap and rock. His live set last night at Mesa Amphitheater was no exception.

The Chicago-born Fiasco began the concert with a compilation of hits -- old and new -- while his live band rocked ceaselessly, hardly giving the crowd a chance to stop moving between tracks. While using a band for a live hip hop show is no longer unorthodox -- The Roots, Attmosphere and Lil Wayne have all done it -- but Lupe's show was unique. The Roots jam, Atmosphere's tour band jams, Lupe's band rocked.

Lupe didn't have an entourage or hype men but instead employed two huge dudes who actually sang the choruses. During transitions, the guitarist closed down songs with guitar solos rather than drums. Lupe jumped around the stage from beginning to end.

The only thing old school about the show was the message. Hip hop, like most countercultural movements, has deep political roots. Somewhere along the way guys in suits added up how much money they could make off rap music and the content got switched up. Money, hoes and drugs replaced revolution and power -- but you know that story.

Lupe is sort of old school in that way. His songs often expose personal and societal ills. Again, his live message was no exception. I've watched a lot of shows since the highly controversial SB1070 bill passed, a law that would essentially mandate that police discriminate against Latinos in Arizona if it ever went into effec. Most artists I see in concert either ignore the issue or are unaware of it. Lupe addressed the topic directly.

"Mexican immigrants are allowed at my show too," he said slyly.

Injustice exists whether it's in Libya or Arizona, he told the crowd a few minutes later.

"What are you going to go out in the world and do?" he asked. "Great things...or fuck it up?"

Then he launched into "Words I Never Said," a critique on the widespread silence surrounding this country's most pressing issues. Terrorism, budget cuts, education, consumerism, cable news, banking, prescriptions drugs... You know, all that fucked up shit you hear about from Jon Stewart weeknights at 11 p.m.

"A rebel in your doubts, ain't gonna make it halt / If you never become an actor, you'll never be a factor," he rapped.

After finishing the song, his message grew more optimistic.

"This is a beautiful place and I'm not talking about the people who run it," he said. "I'm talking about you." 

The audience got all sorts of amped and began chanting "Lupe!" for the first time since he took the stage.

For the rest of the evening, whenever Lupe told the crowd to scream, they screamed. When he said "Put your hands up," they put their hands up. That's totally normal but it's a microcosm of a bigger phenomenon.

Musicians influence their fans, especially live in concert when everyone feels merry from all the sing along and drink. Addressing the SB1070 debate directly and in the flesh is more effective than scratching Arizona from the summer tour.

Critic's Notebook

Last Night: Lupe Fiasco at Mesa Amphitheater in Mesa

Personal Bias: I hate conscious rap.

The Crowd: ASU kids, 16-year-olds and a chick sporting a cowboy hat.

Overheard: "You're badgering me bro'!" The security guard to me after attempting to talk my way into the photo row with an iPhone 4. Does he not know that this thing has 5 megapixels with high dynamic range?

Random Notebook Dump: Half of the crowd cheered when Lupe rhetorically asked them if they were "going to fuck up the future?" Surely they will, despite good intentions.