Show Review: EPMD at the Old Rock House, Wednesday, April 23

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Rap pioneers EPMD performed at the Old Rock House in St. Louis on Wednesday night, as part of Scion’s free concert series “Metro Live.” The venue offered a lot more space than Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, where the series has been held in the past, although despite the size of the venue, most of it was closed off until around ten p.m. The crowd started to get restless as people had to stand on top of each other in a small bar area during the sound check. Eventually, the velvet ropes were moved and people were free stake out their tables or spots on the dance floor.

After a forgettable set from a rap-contest winner from Houston, the L.A. band Connie Price and the Keystones quickly made up for it with an engaging set of acoustic soul and funk. Covers of songs like AWB’s “School Boy Crush” and Digable Planet’s “9th Wonder” (mixed in with some original music) brought the crowd to life. The Keystones were then joined by its Stones Throw Records labelmate Percee P. The industry veteran performed a strong set, accented by a rhythmic, a capella verse. Percee acknowledged acquaintance and local emcee Lyfestile in the crowd before making way for the main event.

As EPMD took the stage -- with Connie & the Keystones as its backing band -- people responded to the authentic old-school vibe. There were no diamond-covered necklaces or sunglasses, just hoodies, headbands and Kangols. They looked as comfortable as ever on the stage, reciting tag-team style verses while demanding crowd participation. Opener “You Gots to Chill” set the show’s tone, as Erick Sermon’s heavily funk-sampled tracks were perfectly suited for the live-band setup. This format worked well, with the exception of one track: “So Whatcha Sayin” lost something in having the chorus vocals replaced by a horn section.

The tracklist had all the songs you might expect to hear (“I Shot the Sheriff,” “Please Listen to My Demo,” “You’re a Customer”), and Sermon even performed a verse from “Jane” at the request of an audience member (and performed “Just Like Music” -- the Marvin Gaye tribute from his solo album -- when the band took a breather).

In between songs, the ‘Green-Eyed Bandit’ (Sermon) expressed some of his thoughts about fake rappers and the current state of the industry. This segued into the 1992 hit “Crossover,” which was originally aimed at rappers like MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. EPMD closed out the show with “The Headbanger” and discreetly made their exit under the crowd’s applause.

-- Calvin Cox

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