Live & Loco: Let A Dog Roam and He'll Find His Way Home (DMX at TLA in Philly 4/7/17)
Theater of Living Arts
South Street, Philadelphia PA
Friday, April 7th, 2017
Has DMX really been a rap star for twenty years?!?
Has it really been almost two full decades, since It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot was bumping out of every dorm room with a cot?!?
And have I really never seen the Dog perform live, in all of that time, despite having by now seen almost every rapper of note still alive, plus caught Backstage in the movie theater by myself, during a rainy Baltimore afternoon back In the Year Two-Thousand?!?
Admittedly, headed into Friday night’s sold-out show, my expectations were fairly low.
Mostly, I just hoped The Dog would show.
Heading to South Street to see if he would, seemed as good an excuse as any to get my fellow DAWG, Green Terror, little-brother-turned-father-of-three family man, Johnny aka Souse Dawg, out of the house on a Friday evening, to ride a wave of Tito’s-and-Soda, two-decades-plus of friendship, along with some good ole collegiate musical nostalgia.
The end result?
The Dog showed up.
The Dog showed out.
Those old enough can recall a brief time in the late 90’s, post-Pac and Biggie’s murders, just after Wu-Tang began splintering off in non-RZA-led directions, when there was a legitimate argument to be made for DMX being the biggest star in rap.
I wouldn’t have made such a claim, since to me that was Jay-Z.
Yet for a time, let's say mid-'98 thru all of '99, I see how an argument could be made.
Truthfully, when it comes to my favorite MC?
I prefer someone with a little more slickness, wordplay and versatility.
DMX is more in that Tupac lineage, than he is Jay or Biggie.
And I do appreciate that kind of MC.
Enigmatic, charismatic, conveyors of raw emotion, via microphonemoting.
Editor’s Note: Yes, I just made up that word, I may even introduce another one to the lexicon, before we’re done here.
Rappers that bring energy, pathos and star quality, which can also lead to them becoming successful as movie actors.
My tastes typically align more with the Rakim, BIG and Hov school of emceeing.
But that's a topic for another time, let’s get back to Friday night.
After a prolonged wait, which seemed to annoy most of the crowd far more than it did me, DMX finally graced the stage at close to midnight.
I felt like that seemed about right.
If you thought it would be any more than an hour earlier than that, I question your level of familiarity with DMX, rap shows, and maybe even music altogether.
For example, in the case of a similarly mercurial rock-and-roll doppelganger, the last time I saw Axl Rose hit the stage, at the Palladium on Sunset Strip in 2012, it was well after 1 AM, with last-call coming three or four songs into a three-hour show.
DMX took the TLA stage at least an hour and a half earlier than that.
To me it was a win as soon as he did so, in full energetic mode, ready to go Rambo.
By the opening DJ drop on “We Right Here”, DMX was here to remind you that we were all just that, and that we should feel happy about that fact.
He was a whirling dervish of activity from that point until he left the stage.
The inimitable gravel-and-broken-glass baritone bark, still had all of its bite.
In between songs, while addressing the crowd with opinions on hip-hop, life, God and additional, less high-minded topics, DMX’s voice on its own, rumbling from the speakers, was at times powerful enough to be felt inside your chest like heavy bass.
X is apparently from the Treach (of Naughty by Nature) sartorial school of stage-rocking, which means:
Come out in a winter cap or skully, with a big coat or hoodie, then progressively lose layers, while working up a sweat onstage.
He started looking like a Yonkers winter.
He left dressed for a Bahamian summer.
Along the way, many highlights, from a surprising amount of hits, coming from a fairly short period of time, came crashing through the function: Get at Me Dog, Stop Being Greedy, How’s It Going Down, his verses on “Money, Power, Respect” and “24 Hours To Live”, Party Up (Up In Here), Who We Be, Where The Hood At, What’s My Name.
At some point, The Dog climbed up the top of the stage right speaker to get a better view as we did too. After a quick call-and-response mic-check to the crowd, the beat for “Ruff Ryder Anthem (Remix)” started, which he performed prowling atop the speaker, overlooking an ecstatic throng of TLA patrons below.
Beyond all the adrenaline-rushes from that scene, along with some of the other aforementioned anthems, there was also introspective moments that proved powerful.
“Slippin”, from 1998’s Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, is for my money, one of the greatest records that DMX has ever made.
And his performance of it, witnessed from just above the floor at the bottom of the right-side stairs, gave that song the respect it deserved.
That one, with its Grover Washington Jr. sample, along with DMX doing an additional choral sing-shout over his originally recorded hook, hit me right in the soulfulplexes.
Editor’s Note: And there's newly minted word number two!
It’s the only song I caught on video myself, since I had my phone in my pocket the entire night, outside of when The Dog ordered us to pull our phones or lighters out for it:
My road dawg Johnny, thought he caught a few, but I’ll avoid linking those results up, to spare Wudder readers any risk of motion sickness.
By the time it was all said and done, I’m not exactly sure how long DMX was on before he was gone. Somewhere close to 90 minutes I’d guess, but it's possible it was less.
However long it was, like a Rage Against The Machine show, by the time it ended?
It felt like enough.
You simply cannot maintain that level of intensity for over two hours.
By evening’s end, I'd shed only slightly less layers than the Darkman himself.
Even though it was almost literally the only hit he didn’t perform, when DMX shows up, in front of a Philly crowd encouraging his best effort?
“Of all the cities I've performed in my career, across the world for the last twenty years, Philly's definitely in my Top 5”, said The Dog sometime mid-set between songs.
With his performance Friday night, The Dog made a strong case for being one of the Top 5 MC’s that I’ve been blessed to witness live.
Welcome Home, Dog.
Shoutouts to the following folks I encountered during the evening in question:
-the tall, slender, youthful female Philly cop, who took this page's headshot, over the objections of her male PPD peers standing alongside the curb outside the TLA on South Street, in a good faith effort towards (her words) "community policing".
-the two nice ladies seated in the upstairs balcony lounge who rapped “Paid In Full” line-for-line with me when it came on in the pre-show mix.
-that girl with the homemade bedazzled denim jacket, by the front of the downstairs bar, taking those timed selfies.
-the co-hosts of HypeCityShow, whom I met during 1 Shot Deal’s opening set, a thankless task with everyone already getting antsy waiting for X, who acquitted himself well enough, without catching a full Philly boo or Sandman-style hook.
-that cute young blonde who thought she was slick, figuring that grinding up against me while offering sips of beer was gonna get herself, plus her boyfriend lingering behind her, past the catbird position we'd worked to secure. Nah Baby, I'm not gon be able to do! Wish you both luck, elsewhere.
-the lady immediately behind them, who after they gave up, stayed in her spot but could be heard saying “Go ‘head, baby” and “Tell ‘em the truth, D”, like she was doing call-and-response with the pastor from her church pew.
-the dude onstage painting on an easel while X performed, who had a completed work of art, by the time The Dog had gotten done canvassing the spot.
-EAZY56ST for the two additional TLA clips you see here other than mine at the end.
-Last, but certainly not least, Johnny's wife Megan, both for the pre-game cocktail hour at the family home, as well as letting her DAWG roam, with the faith that yours truly, would make sure these two old DAWGS found our way home, via PATCO post-show.
Stay Tuned for at least two more installments of Live & Loco later this month.
PJ Harvey at The Fillmore Philadelphia on April 21st.
Wendy, Lisa, Brown Mark, Doctor Fink & Bobby Z aka THE REVOLUTION REUNION!! (sans His Royal Purple Badness), Sunday April 30th, 2017