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As my friends and I walked into the Highline Ballroom last night, we were immediately surprised by the crowd—or rather, the lack of the crowd. Dinner ran later than expected and we arrived nearly an hour after doors opened, yet we heard nothing as we climbed the stairs. And even when we found ourselves in the venue’s cool, dark belly, it seemed as if there was only a scattered handful of people among the couches. Wandering blue lights occasionally revealed someone swaying to the foreign pop remixes spun by DJ Nick At Nite, but no one seemed ready for a concert.
This was Talib Kweli’s audience?
No, as we quickly discovered (after being solicited by this or that organization), this was a networking event intended for college students searching for jobs—music would come later. Luckily, later was sooner than we thought.
A crowd started to fill in and the DJ left the stage, promptly to be replaced by The Rooks; a young band from Wesleyan University that managed to get the crowd dancing. They started with some upbeat soul, including a fast-paced cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours,” before slowing down mid-set. After some bluesy tunes, the band picked up the pace once more for their closer and left the crowd cheering.
Following a brief intermission, The Higher Concept took the stage. The audience jumped for what started out as an energetic hip-hop act, complete with a band and a very talented background vocalist. Unfortunately, this promising performance swiftly degenerated into a series of gimmicky attempts to produce sing-alongs. From sampling Oasis’ “Wonderwall” to covering Sublime’s “Doin’ Time”—poorly—it seemed as if they were more concerned with getting the crowd involved than having the crowd enjoy their performance. THC (clever, right?) were cut short of their last song, with no objection from the crowd.
After a rollercoaster ride of opening acts, Talib Kweli was finally up. The ballroom’s population had grown considerably since we first arrived and the entire crowd was now on its feet.
Accompanied by DJ Madsol, the BK MC took control of the stage, performing his favorites, which, judging by the audience’s applause, happened to be everyone else’s favorites as well. From “In This World” to “Thieves In The Night” to “Lonely People” Talib did not disappoint. Later in the show, excited fans erupted in song during a solo rendition of “Definition,” singing with the emcee not because he told them to, but because it was genuinely an incredible performance. At the end of his set, Kweli quickly said “goodnight” and walked off stage to take a seat at a nearby booth and greet some audience members.
Was it worth the solicitations? The shaky opening acts? Definitely. I think everyone at Highline last night would agree that Kweli put on a memorable performance, whether they got a job out of it or not.