So after having been ditched by Mos Def twice in a month, I must admit that I was kind of looking forward to seeing Wale perform earlier this week hoping to get some sort of redemption from seeing an up-and-coming artist after being ditched by the vet. Truthfully I didn’t even know that he was performing in town until last weekend when I was turning the pages of the newspaper Saturday morning as I’m known to do and discovered that the DC rapper, most famous for his song featuring Lady Gaga, was to perform to a small crowd at none other than Tattoo Rock Parlor.
The fact that Wale was going to play to a small crowd was not at all a surprise, as thinking that anyone early in their career working on their performance chops would rather perform to a small club crowd then open for some big headliner and perform to empty arena seats. Rather, what surprised me here was the fact that this show was going on at Tattoo, which until recently had branded itself as a place strictly for good ol’ rock and roll.
So there I was on a Tuesday night, a little tipsy after having a couple of margarita’s at a Mexican restaurant down the street, at a place I had been to plenty of times before and for some reason, the feeling was a little off. Sure Tattoo doesn’t necessarily draw a pure rocker crowd, but it always seemed to stake it’s claim to being the one club in Charles Khabouth’s empire that had a bit of edge to it. It’s funny because as he stated in an interview a year or so ago with the Globe and Mail, “Novelty is something you have to be very careful with,” but does bringing a Rap show to a Rock club signal that the novelty has worn off? Maybe it does.
Going to Tattoo that night, with my friend Dean, we actually discussed this idea and even took note as we got there checking out who was in the crowd, how they were dressed and what that might’ve said about where this was all going down. And true to any performer (rapper, rocker or otherwise), Wale took the stage late, while his hype man tried to pull the small crowd out of their seats and to the front of the stage. In truth, I like Wale; I don’t think his delivery or style are anything original, but I do think that he’s got a lot more substance than most rap artists, so that is what got me in the door.
Unfortunately, he didn’t do enough to keep me there until the end of the show. The truth is, I’ve got no problem with having a rap show at a rock club and actually think that it is a great thing for Tattoo to do more of; however, where I thought both the venue and the artist went wrong was the fact that they missed an opportunity to do something different. As we all know, rock and roll evolved out of bucking the system, and that is where Tattoo first made its mark. It was the diversification in Khabouth’s club portfolio, but where they missed on this night -artist and venue- was by not being diverse enough.
Wale’s delivery, while skilled, didn’t play to the crowd and the venue didn’t do him any favours. The sound was overpowering, and there was no give-and-take between the performers and the crowd, and instead it was three guys on stage, dancing with themselves and talking at the crowd. Dean even cracked on the way out that Wale was on his Blackberry more than he was on par that night, and that was all I needed to hear to ice the cake.
To me, the opportunity was to do something different; provide a more intimate show where interaction and story telling can happen. I’ve been to some amazing shows, rock and rap, where that happens, and although few and far between, those are the performances that last in memories, make careers and venues alike. So to Tattoo I’d say get a piano on stage, or a house band that can play with these non-rock artists and embrace hip hop properly; and to Wale I’d say, keep writing great music and simply find different ways to perform it in different places. Every crowd is an opportunity and every venue is the tool to get it out.