By Tyler Bunzey
April 8, 2022
As concertgoers trickled into The Underground on Thursday night, they were met with a bit of a bizarre scene. There was no line to enter the venue to get through security. Bartenders stood casually behind the bar, devoid of the usual frenzy of doling out drinks to eager and anticipating fans. About ten people stood at the security fence in front of the stage, and nobody had to push for room to be on the front line. The AC was blasting, making the room uncomfortably frigid, much colder than the cool spring night unfolding outside. The Pharcyde merch table featured only merch labeled with “The Far Side,” a result of a copyright battle and group infighting. The room that Pharcyde would rock just about an hour later felt more like the lobby of a convention center than a concert celebrating the 30th anniversary of one of hip-hop’s germinal albums.
When the group’s soundsmith on this tour, DJ Abilities, came out to warm up the crowd, the peculiarity of the show persisted. Concertgoers began to leave the patio, putting out cigarettes and donning jackets to trudge back into the sub-arctic venue. They were met with a DJ set of oddities. In Abilities’ performance, ‘80s pop punk met classic rock and golden age hip-hop met metal. When audiences began to really rock to a song, Abilities would abruptly change it. Hip-hop staples like Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance” or Tribe’s “Electric Relaxation,” were cut off before their iconic hooks.
This bewilderment faded to buoyant joy as the three emcees of the Pharcyde reunion tour took the stage. Slimkid3, Fatlip, and Imani sutured together the panoply of oddities as they performed their classic hits from the 1992 album Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde like “Ya Mama” and “Passin’ Me By.” Audience members that ranged from their early 20s to late 50s were dazzled by the emcees who hadn’t forgotten that the primary role of the MC is to move the crowd. Throughout the show, Pharcyde’s microphone controllers playfully ran through the records that made underground hip-hop heads fall in love with them 30 years ago. The emcees’ endearing mischievousness displayed what set them apart from the West Coast mainstream in the early ‘90s that featured hardcore reality rap like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and MC Eiht.
But Pharcyde didn’t just stick to the hits. They played a couple of records from their follow-up album Labcabincalifornia (1995), including the J Dilla-produced hit “Drop.” Their set closed out with a nostalgic performance “Runnin” as the group’s tour posse filled out the stage and concertgoers sung out the descending chorus with full throats and fuller hearts. The three emcees generously pledged to stick around after the show to hang out with the crowd as DJ Abilities played an afterparty set.
While the concert felt strange at times, what else would you expect from a group that took hip-hop on an eccentric phantasmagoria when it seemed so deeply rooted in a detached kind of cool. The group’s previous fractures seemed distant as they conjured the beauty of the bizarre. The result? A night of loving celebration for three of hip-hop’s weirdest and most creative emcees.
Check out the remaining dates for The Far Side (formerly known as The Pharcyde) Bizarre Ride II 30th anniversary tour.