Rock the Bells 2010 (San Bernardino) Review

So I went to the L.A. based (San Bernardino to be precise) Rock the Bells on Saturday, August 21st. It's almost three days later and I don't think my body has fully recovered yet. Overall, I found the concert to be very enjoyable and I give it a solid 3 1/2 stars (out of a possible 5 stars). The concert was definitely worth going to, but I do believe many of the reviews I've read online are overstating the excellence of the concert. I think many of these reviewers are basing their reviews more on the concert line-up than the actual performances and general experience of the event. So here is my review of the RTB from the eyes of Pipomixes.

Overall Concert Organization
Identical to Guerrilla Union events I have attended in the past, the overall organization of the event was good enough to avoid a riot, but not much better than that. Commuting from the freeway exit to the venue (National Orange Show) parking lot was an absolute nightmare. Many angry concert goers reported that it took up to 2 hours to get from the freeway exit to the parking lot (no more than 2 miles). Fortunately for Pipo, I was given a heads-up on the parking nightmare (from my man OmegaNYC) so I was able to avoid this mess by taking a different exit and parking away from the venue parking lot. Though I was not directly affected by this parking disaster, I can only imagine how angry many of the attendees were, given the 100 degree heat and reality of missing early acts such as Slick Rick, Rakim, and KRS-One.

In addition to the parking disaster, the whole idea of a RTB card as a form of currency was absolutely HORRIBLE! Cash is usually king. Not at a RTB concert. You couldn't use cash to buy anything at the venue (such as food and water). Instead, you had to transfer your cash into a RTB card in order to make purchases. Sounds simple enough, but not really. What this meant was that instead of having to wait in a long line to buy a pizza or bottled water, you had to wait in two long lines. First, you had to wait in a long line to convert your cash to a RTB card, then you had to wait in a longer line to buy whatever it was that you wanted. All this ignores the shadiness of using a "giftcard" system that increases the promoters profit margin because most people will not use all of the money on their card.

I purchased a VIP ticket to avoid the long lines and to have some sort of refuge from the sweltering heat in the tented VIP section. Though my motivations for paying the extra hundred dollars and change for the VIP pass had more to do with wanting access to an area that was separated from the general public and wanting to have a "chill" place for a blunt session or three, it was annoying (and not surprising) when the event organizers ran out of VIP passes and t-shirts. I wasn't all that excited about the "free" t-shirt that was supposed to come with the VIP package, but I could see a lot of disappointed faces when the last t-shirt was distributed to the guy who was literally right in front of me. Also, the supposed "red carpet" entrance was nowhere to be found. I would have bet everything I owned on an absent red carpet entrance. With that said, why advertise it if you're not going to deliver it? That in a nutshell sums up what needs to be improved about the organization of Guerrilla Union events.

I didn't want to arrive too early because I wanted to avoid the heat as long as I could. As much as it pained me, that meant missing Slick Rick, Rakim, and KRS-One. As much respect as I have for those three legends, I figured that seeing them perform before a sparse audience in triple-digit heat would be a forgettable experience. Those of you who arrived earlier than me, let me know what I missed. Below is a summary of my impressions from the performances that I was able to see.

DJ Premier - Primo did his thing performing a medley of Gang Starr classics. I thought Premier was particularly on point with his cuts, scratches, and transitions. My only complaint is that the performance wasn't given enough set time. I would have loved to see Primo do his thing for another 10-15 minutes.

Lauryn Hill - It was great to see L-Boogie back on stage performing. But that's about the only positive that can be taken from her performance. Her performance consisted of a freestyle'esque jam session of all of her most known hits. I'm all for a little improvisation when performing live, but Lauryn Hill was off-beat, lacking in breath control, and her backup band wasn't good enough to compensate for what she lacked in her own performance. In my view, it was pretty evident that Lauryn Hill doesn't want to sing anymore. I don't necessarily have a problem with her not singing, but at least get the rapping part right. To be fair, her lackluster performance could be have been a case of performance rust. I'd be interested to hear what people who have/will see the later shows will say. Before you all accuse me of being an L-Boogie basher, I just want to say that I am one of the 4 people who actually LOVED the unplugged album. Judge for yourself below.

A Tribe Called Quest - This was the highlight of the show for me. As advertised, Tribe performed Midnight Marauders in its entirety (I think?). At first, it seemed as if they felt a little shackled by the album format. I don't know if it was a lack of rehearsal, or first show jitters, but something seemed to be "off" during the first 20 minutes of their performance. However, after those first 20 minutes it WAS F*CKING ON!! It was when Tribe started performing songs not from the Midnight Marauders album that they really hit their groove. The cherry on the Sunday was seeing Busta Rhymes come out and perform Scenario with ATCQ. I can now die knowing that I was able to see ATCQ perform Scenario with Busta Rhymes. With the exception of the slow start, the ATCQ performance was top notch. A sample below.

Wu Tang Clan - The Wu were the only performers that really tried to stay true to the whole album concept. As far as I could tell, Enter the 36 Chambers was performed in the order in which the tracks appear on the actual album. As dope as the Wu is, they've never been accused of being in the upper echelon of live performers. As a result, I wasn't exactly rushing to finish my blunt session to see the Wu. Due to a longer than planned blunt session, I missed the first third of Wu's performance. However, what I did see far exceed my expectations. My only complaint was that somewhere, someone decided that it would be a good idea to close the Wu set with Method Man and Redman's Da Rockwilder (with no Redman). WTF?! If we're going to do Wu solo joints, why can't we get into something from Ghost, Raekwon, Gza, or a solo Method Man. Can anybody explain this? In all seriousness, I'd take a U-God joint over Da Rockwilder.

Snoop Doggy Dogg - I'll admit that by the time the Wu set was finished I was physically spent. I was out of blunts, dehydrated, hungry, tired, etc...Approximately one hour separated the end of the Wu set and the beginning of Snoop's performance. Though the waiting was physically taxing, the highlight of my entire concert experience came while waiting for Snoop to take the stage (see explanation below). Hell, the highlight of my entire 2010 came while waiting for Snoop to take the stage (still see explanation below). Overall, Snoop's performance was strong. It was great to hear him perform all his Doggystyle classics along with Warren G, Lady of Rage, The Dogg Pound, and RBX. I'd go into more detail, but I was literally too physically exhausted to remember more.

Highlight of the Concert. Correction, HIGHLIGHT OF 2010
As mentioned above, the highlight of the show came while waiting for Snoop to take the stage. This wonderful event in human history had nothing to do with the actual musical performances of the concert. The scene has three characters. We'll call our first character Wannabe Tough Guy (approx. 25 yrs old). Our second character will be called Skinny White Kid (aprox. 19 yrs old). Our third character will be called Big Black Dude (approx. 6'2, 195 lbs, 30 yrs old).

The scene takes place while a hot, tired crowd impatiently waits for Snoop to take the stage and begin his performance. Wannabe Tough Guy is standing around talking to a group of friends that consists of about 4 guys and 2 girls. Skinny White Kid unintentionally walks into one of the girls that Wannabe Tough Guy is talking to when the following occurs...

- Wannabe Tough Guy (speaking to Skinny White Kid) - "Say you're sorry."
- Skinny White Kid - "I'm sorry."
- Wannabe Tough Guy - "No. Say you're sorry."
- Skinny White Kid - "Look, I'm really sorry for walking into you guys."
- Wannabe Tough Guy (Clearly trying to punk the easy mark to impress the girl) - "Say it again."
- Skinny White Kid - (Looks like a deer in headlights that is clearly in over his head)
- Big Black Dude (as Skinny White Kid vanishes into crowd to seek refuge) - "Tell ME to say it again."
- Wannabe Tough Guy - "I wasn't talking to you."
- Big Black Dude - "Tell me to say it again."
- Wannabe Tough Guy - (Begins to stare at his phone pretending to be preoccupied with texting a friend)
- Big Black Dude - "You ain't punking nobody with that phone. Tell me to say it again."
- Wannabe Tough Guy - (No response. Continues to look at his cell phone as if the President is going to call at any moment)
- Big Black Dude - "Didn't think so... "

Skinny White Kid is gone and safe in the anonymity of the crowd. Big Black Dude walks away having proved his point and saving Skinny White Kid from public humiliation. Wannabe Tough Guy feels about 3" tall and is reminded of the natural order of bullies. And for that moment, if for nothing more than that moment, all is just in the world.

- Friend of Wannabe Tough Guy - "Hey, that guy really pulled your panties down bro."

Closing Thoughts

In the end, I am glad that I went to the 2010 Rock the Bells. Was it as good as some of the professional reviews suggest? No. Was it worth experiencing? Yes. Maybe I'm biased because I'm a deejay, but I find myself having little patience for live performances that aren't seamless. In my view, a live performance should have peaks and valleys, but no pauses or interruptions. In other words, a live performance should play like a great mixtape. In a nutshell, that is why I have always been a fan of The Roots and eternally frustrated with most Hip Hop performers. There just seems to be some sort of ceiling on what many hip hop performers can do live. I was hoping the whole album concept would force these acts to put more thought into the actual performance of their live shows, but ultimately most of these acts fell short.


Anonymous said...

Geurilla Union are a bunch of f'n crooks. after waiting in the card line for 40 minutes and the water line for another 30 minutes in 100deg heat, they announced they only had soda left. WTF! So we waited another 30 min at a different booth. Thank God that was during the L-Boogie performance. The rest of the show rocked as you mentioned. I thought Snoop put on a great show, and was kinda bummed that Kurupt had lost his voice. Felt kinda bad that so many people left during his set too, but it was one hot f'n day standing in the sun. I enjoyed the show but will never go to another one at the nos center or anything promoted by GU

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review! (The Wanna Be Tough Guy/Skinny White Kid/Big Black Dude story was hilarious!) I'm getting ready to see the show in the DC area this coming Sunday. I know I'm not going to be able to be out there the whole day, so could you tell me what the order of performances was? Where in the show did Lauryn Hill, ATCQ & Snoop perform?

dfabix said...

I had a homie who went to the show also, but haven't heard his reviews yet....
He is a "skinny white guy" (but he's from Compton and not punked that easily)....hahah...

I like to hear the realistic reviews...not the hyped up kiss ass shit most people write...

btw, I once saw the GZA perform there (Linkin Park was there too)...and it was the worst performance I've ever seen in my life...I will never go see the GZA live again...he was HORRIBLE...
there are only a few WU's who bring it everytime they perform...

L-boogie just seems like she wants to convert all her old music to dancehall.....the Marley have infiltrated...haha

Thanks for the review Pipo....can't believe a grown ass man still going to these HUGE events...wooooo!

I couldn't hang ass is way too old to deal with that many idiots in the heat....


ADA said...

thanks for this honest and heartfelt review, it's really fascinating to read! I never went to RTB, but I always imagined it'd be pretty close to what you describe. I don't believe the hype. The friends I talked to that went never really sold me on it either so I've always sat it out, not wanting to spend the $$$ to experience something I know will leave me disappointed ultimately. Great story, so glad you were able to catch and capture that little exchange in the crowd! You are absolutely on point about Hiphop performances not being fluid enough... it SHOULD flow like a mixtape, one you don't want to skip through!

Eric Nord said...

Thanks for the review.

The traditional concert format never suited hip hop. And I'm sorry, but the Roots are as much a "band" as they are hip hop, so it's saying The Roots are the only solid live hip hop act is basically saying there are no good hip hop live acts. But i think the problem is mostly an issue of hip hop being out of place at these sorts of predictable, overhyped, and oversized events.

Hip Hop is DJs, MCs, and B-Boys. I think even the idea of a "performance" is somewhat anathema to the spirit of hip hop. Now a battle or a cipher... that's hip hop. When a DJ plays something you never heard before... that's hip hop. When you bring a record up to the DJ and he mixes it into his set... that's hip hop.

The other thing about live hip hop is that you gotta have the right crowd. The crowd has to understand the culture and the DJ/MC has to establish a connection with the crowd. That's why battles are so important because the crowd becomes a participant.

BTW, those gift cards they were using were probably more about preventing employee theft.

pipomixes said...

DC Anonymous - the order of the acts was L-Boogie, ATCQ, WU, Snoop with L-Boogie starting at around 5pm. They should post the set times on the RTB site before your show.

dfabix - Believe me, Biggie will have to rise from the dead and perform with JMJ as his backup DJ for me to do that again.

ENord - I agree with most of what you said about hip hop performances. I get frustrated because I've scene hip hop acts pull it off. I've scene the Roots do several times (yes, being a live band really helps). I saw Talib Kweli do it at the Dilated Platform release party back in 99/00 (before the RE album, no less). And don't shoot for this one, I saw Kanye take it to a whole new level at the Glow in the Dark tour. I hear what you're saying about the whole interaction with the audience thing, but I do think that classic acts like ATCQ, WU, Rakim, etc... should be able to take their live performances to a new, higher level. They have to do it in the style of how Kanye did it, but they can do it with their own flavor.

pipomixes said...

Corection - I meant to say that they don't have to do it in the Style that Kanye did it

dfabix said...

I've seen many acts do it actually.....

J5, Outkast, Atmosphere, Talib, Alkaholiks, DJ Quik (once, lol), KRS1, Eminem in his early years was solid too.....just to name a few.

The Dynamic Hamza 21® said...

Looks like I didn't miss much. It's 104 degrees here in SB right now so you're lucky the heatwave wasn't worst than it was.

I'm not surprised by Lauryn set. She was the surprise guest back 2006?..2007?

Her band took longer setting up (45 minutes) than her performance(20 minutes).She also only performed four songs. The first two "Lost Ones" & "Do Wop" were a mess. She kept repeating the same words over and over. The other two "Fu-Gee-La" & "How Many Mics" was dope as can be.

Straight up Chang Weisberg & GU are pathetic! You would think after all the concerts they held they would get it right. Paid Dues is a much better experience than RTB!!Well it used to before Chang staring letting no names the industry are pushing get on the bill.

All in all I wished I could have went to see Brother Ali perform. He always rocks crowds. This year and next yaer no RTB for me due fasting for Ramadan. Hopefully the upcoming Paid Dues lineup will be worth the price admission.

actionxjackson said...

i went to the show @ the shorline in the bay area. i mainly stuck to the main stage because i wasn't too interested in any of the act from the paid dues stage.
slick rick played his jams, but had no energy at all.
rakim had a good set.
krs-one was pretty awesome. he came out with supernatural and they did a really good set. i've seen krs in a small club/ venue. bar setting and those sets were better because of that, but his performance @ rtb was still very good.
dj premier wasn't too bad, i feel like it could have been a bit better.
tribe was supposed to be on next, but after waiting over an hour or so, lauryn hill came out. the crowd was anticipating tribe, but got a really crappy set by lauren. a good chunk of the crowd sat/ laid down. my girlfriend and i took a nap. i think she played one refugee song and on song off miseducation. a good chunck of the audience was still into it. and don't get me wrong, i love her shit with fugees and her miseducation album and she is very talented, but man this performance was terrible.
tribe finally came on and it was just nuts. great set all around and then busta rhymes came out and took it to another level.
wu-tang was great. odb's son was there in his place. it was pretty cool that his son did that. they still played odb's vocals over his kids voice.
i peaced it out after that. a ginger kid sitting in the 100 degree sun for 10+ hrs is not a good thing.
i would have liked to see snoop dogg, but i was honestly more interested in seeing warren g and lady rage. oh well.
pretty good day overall.
also, the bay area had no "rtb credit cards" that i was aware of. i wonder if they only do this is specific venues? sounds pretty weird/ lame to me.