The Carnival Comes to Town

Wyclef Jean Wyclef Jean
with John Forte and Coolbone
The Rage
Vancouver, B.C.
Sunday, January 25, 1998

Review by Darren Kerr
Photography by Rodney Gitzel

I've watched movies like Beat Street, Krush Groove and both Breakin' movies, but with the exception of Afrika Bambaataa, I always thought the music was some sort of alien babbling, maybe by auctioneers from a freak galaxy. The movies would end and I would go back to listening to Venom or Killing Joke or the Lemon Pipers, depending on whatever phase Coolbone trumpeter I was going through at the time. I guess I've been widening my spectrum since then, because bands like Spearhead, the Roots, Pharcyde and Wyclef Jean have been getting serious play on my system of late. But, until this show, I'd never felt the power of a full-blown hip hop extravaganza.

Coolbone tuba player Right from the start there was an abundance of that fierce pride that comes from knowing you excel at the art of freestylin', turntablin' and crowd pumpin'. Coolbone -- "all the way from New Orleans, straight from the heart" -- were first to grace the stage. Old school everybody-gets-a-piece-of-the-rhyme type shit with brass up the ass. The majority of the band members were packing either a trombone, saxophone or trumpet, and a big ol' linebacker guy was all over the house laying down the bass foundations with his tuba! If y'all have ever tried to play a tuba, you know how hard it is. Imagine trying to play one while bouncing up and down like Rerun from What's Happening. During the song "Big Ol' Butt" it was like a scene from the movie School Daze, with the band at the front of the stage with their backs to the audience, shakin' ass in John Forte fat pants -- except for the sole woman singer/tambourine player, who was gyrating in a skirt with high knee boots. This must've inspired her, 'cause the next song was a slow burning soul ballad which showcased her sizable vocal talents.

Next up was John Forte and his crew. I gotta say nothing to report here, except for two guys rapping over lame-ass bathetic beats. I hate it when all you get is that tired "wave your hands in the air, lemme hear you say yo!" crap. Clichés don't fly in rock music, so why the hell should they fly any farther in rap music?

Wyclef Jean After a long wait during which a DJ showed off his scratching dexterity, Wyclef Jean's band finally took the stage. Wyclef, leader of the Fugees and a supposed icon in his homeland of Haiti, is capable of great work. His solo album, Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival, is a deadly mix of furious hip hop, traditional patois and memorable Marley-esque beauty with a knife edge. On this night, watching 'Clef was witnessing a turbulent genius going off in all directions like a bouncing betty. One area that received his focused attention was the bar: "All you people sitting at the bar, get up or get the fuck out. I came to here to blow the roof off this motherfucker," he bellowed before the second song.

Wyclef Jean He really didn't blow the roof off so much as raise it a few times. He opening with "No Woman, No Cry," with his band playing the intro with reverence, like church was in session. Live instruments, that's where it's at -- or at least where it should be at. But it was shortlived, and the bass and guitar would only be heard a sad few times tonight. John Forte was welcomed back onstage to kick some more rhymes while 'Clef was brooding sidestage. 'Clef then came back for a scorching "Anything Can Happen," which actually got the crowd jumping and jiving. What followed was a kind of standoff with the audience. 'Clef, on guitar, teased the intro to "Every Breath You Take," stopped abruptly, then played another riff, which he snatched back before finally settling on "Gone Till November." On this song the band was catching the flow. 'Clef's guitar ringing over my head -- this was what I came to hear, the songcraft, the distinct melody.

Wyclef Jean Things then got challenging. Wyclef announced that you never hear anyone just stop the music and go freestyle with whatever's in their head. Well, he and some other linguist (Who? I don't friggin' know. Who do I look like? Errol Nazareth?) did just that for about fifteen or twenty minutes. 'Clef took clever potshots at Marilyn Manson and Eddie Murphy, alluded to trysts with Sadé and declared that Superman's weakness was "crips tonight." Meanwhile the other guy went off on a tangent on "the cannabis metaphor." After that, 'Clef played "Guantamera" for the crowd and "Gunpowder" for people like me, who think he can go far beyond Yo MTV raps.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on February 1, 1998

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