Digable Planets at Bar None (review and photos)

Digable Planets at Bar None, Vancouver, June 29 2011. Tamara Lee photo

Review and photos – Digable Planets at Bar None, Vancouver, June 29 2011

– review by Rachel Fox/photos by Tamara Lee

Last night’s Digable Planets show at Bar None in Yaletown was a distinctly laid-back affair, despite the collective buzz for one of the 1990s’ most innovative and memorable hip-hop outfits.

Digable was notable for their fusion of jazz hooks and hip-hop beats, resulting in a smooth yet funky sound made all the more listenable by a lyrical style that was thoughtful and whimsical as opposed to violent or overtly sexual. The group was an important part of a ’90s hip-hop sub-genre that included De La Soul and Arrested Development, and which was notable for having a “musical conscience”.

Part of this included contributions from female performers whose presence was more than that of a sexually objectified prop. Certainly, a huge part of their appeal was that one member of the trio was a female (Mary-Anne “Ladybug” Vieira) who could keep up with the boys and keep her clothes on at the same time.

Last night’s quasi retro-90s revivalist evening was made even more-so by opening act Chin Injeti, formerly of Bass is Base. Sitting at the foot of the stage with his guitar, flanked by a well-rounded band, he played quick set that included a laid-back jammy cover of Aretha Franklin‘s “Daydreaming”.

In an all-too short set Chin managed to whip the crowd into a comfortably mellow funk that perfectly anticipated the Planets’ arrival. “I can’t believe I’m opening up for them!” he exclaimed, clearly as excited as the rest of us were to experience the bugged-out band (which also includes Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler and Craig “Doodlebug” Irving).

Digable Planets at Bar None, Vancouver, June 29 2011. Tamara Lee photo

Digable Planets at Bar None, Vancouver, June 29 2011. Tamara Lee photo

When the Planets finally emerged onstage there seemed to be something out of alignment – alas, Ladybug wasn’t there! In her place was another female rapper, who did an adequate job of holding her own and bringing a healthy female energy to the stage.

Doodlebug and Butterfly were still spitting politically inclusive lyrics (“It’s not cool no more to be a racist and not think for yourself!”), but somehow new messages over old hooks didn’t quite match up. The Digables didn’t hit the stage until well after midnight  (it felt like the crowd had already peaked by the time they did) though they still managed a set that was fun and high-energy, albeit somewhat disjointed. The trio never really gelled onstage in the way I imagined they would; perhaps that was my own biased reaction to Ladybug’s absence (she allegedly left the band over pay inequality).

The show marked the end of their Canadian tour and they made a point of giving “mad love” to this country’s often-overlooked contributions to the hip-hop canon (a recent collaboration with Drake yielded a Juno nomination). The crowd bumped along to favourites like “Nickel Bags”, “Cool Like That” and “Everywhere”, filling in the lyrical holes when prompted by one of the MCs.

Overall their set felt like a happy rehearsal among friends who hadn’t seen in each other in far too long; loose, free and joyous. A happy reunion.

More concert photos of Digable Planets:

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