Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Common's touch lacks electricity

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Be it antiques shopping or co-ed bowling, dining out or staying home to watch TV, a shared interest helps to fortify the foundation of a loving relationship.

Common and Erykah Badu, conscious hip-hop's power couple, illustrate this. They have at least one obvious tie that binds their union, that being an inclination to come to Bogart's and deliver rambling, intermittently entertaining performances.

Badu played the club in March. The first hour was intense, but she was unable and unwilling to leave them hungry for more, and the two, three, or however-many 60-minute intervals that followed amounted to tacked-on filler.

Common, who played Bogart's Sunday, was more concise than his wife, clocking in just under the two-hour mark. But his presence isn't as galvanizing as hers, and his dedication to the positive hip-hop movement translates into a somewhat boring live act.

The Chicago-raised rapper clearly thinks his brand of hip-hop is a more noble pursuit than going gangsta. If he wasn't rapping his praises of purist hip-hop in such songs as "I Used to Love H.E.R." and "Love of My Life," he was taking time to name check those artists he blessed as acceptable.

"Pharcyde," proclaimed Common, "is classy."

They may be classy, but boy are they dull. And Common's performance would have been the same if not for a live band that carried the show. The ensemble, which included bass, guitar, drums and keyboards, shifted the music as nimbly as an ace club DJ.

Also helping the show along was the Cincinnati flavor. Common told the near-capacity crowd he spent summers here as a boy, specifically citing Bond Hill on several occasions.

This led to a freestyle rap full of regional references like Ken Griffey Jr., the Ohio Players, and local rapper/producer Hi-Tek. "I get respect in Ohio like LeBron James," Common rapped of the Akron prep-hoops phenom.

Hi-Tek made two guest appearances on the night, first with opener Talib Kweli, later with Common. Tek and the New York-based Kweli performed "Move Somethin' " and "Blast" from Reflection Eternal, the pair's 2000 collaboration.

E-mail cvarias@enquirer.com

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