MUSIC | Sugarhill Gang at the Fine Line: After 30 years, what you hear is not a test

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The Sugarhill Gang performed last Wednesday night at the Fine Line Music Café. The tour falls on the 30th anniversary of “Rapper’s Delight,” the first rap single to crack the Top 40. Although nostalgia seems to be all the rage, the show didn’t draw the crowd it deserved. (Minnesotans must like their homegrown rappers too much to show up and pay homage to living legends.) But the Sugarhill Gang are just out touring for the love of music, and still know how to get the party started—covering the classics and introducing new material to an adoring crowd.

The upstairs of the club was blocked off as the VIP section, but even so, the first floor didn’t begin to fill until late into the first set, which may have been due to the 10 p.m. doors (or perhaps that the show was under-promoted and/or landed on a Wednesday night).

Local R&B band the New Congress warmed the late-arriving crowd with a sound that bridges old school R&B with an instrumental power similar to the Roots. The eight-piece band performed material from their forthcoming album, including “Anguish Love and Romance,” which will feature Talib Kweli on the recorded version. They later did a cover of Sublime’s “Summertime,” a welcome throwback during this week’s heat wave. All members of the New Congress can hold their own, but lead vocalist and guitarist A.C. “Orange” Cosgrove’s crooning definitely stood out.

The Sugarhill Gang’s performance was all about dancing and partying. All three emcees—Wonder Mike, Master Gee, and Big Bank Hank—worked hard to pump up a somewhat nervous crowd. It’s a little intense to be in the presence of greatness like the Sugarhill Gang, but the band gave a down-to-earth performance. They tested the crowd’s energy by constantly demanding crowd participation, and by welcoming ladies to dance onstage on a few occasions.

The band performed a number of songs said to be on a new record. They paid homage to other groups’ classics from the “Rapper’s Delight” era, such as Parliament’s “Flashlight.” They joked with the crowd during performing such hits, saying things like, “Did we do that one?” At the end of their brief set, they did the “1-2-3, Peace,” quickly and abruptly before performing “Rapper’s Delight.”

Despite the modest attendance, the Sugarhill Gang stirred the crowd like very few of their successors can.

Crystal Erickson (toffee_rox@hotmail.com) is a freelance writer and photographer, with preoccupations in hip-hop, art, and bicycle anarchy.

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