Nas @ HMV Picture House, 26 June
“Where all my Bravehearts at?” Nas tasks this sleepy school night crowd from the get-go, arriving with a full band (simply known as ‘Z’) to sprinkle grit, funk and thrash over his back catalogue while offering a first look at the imminent Life Is Good. Jolted to life by a sharp blast of the Iron Butterfly-sampling Hip Hop is Dead, the audience is already ecstatic by the time he suggests we "take it back to the beginning.”
Launching into the heaviest five-song salute to Illmatic you might never hear, the MC stands front and centre, pouring himself into the role of frontman with vigour. As if New York State of Mind couldn’t get any more sinister, Z’s percussive twists and razorwire guitar licks bring an extra layer of menace to the urban classic. Street Dreams and If I Ruled the World are similarly revitalised by a full instrumental workout.
With several of his aces already played inside the first 20 minutes, you wonder where Nas could possibly go in the next hour. But the tempo only builds on the way to a bombastic mid-way high with Hate Me Now, crashing in like King Kong. By contrast, new single Daughters is sedate and smoothed out, but tonight the man clearly wants to rock.
Nas himself acknowledges that he’s been questing to match the clarity and rawness of his debut for too long; in this live reinvention he’s found a new energy. “All I need is one mic,” he rasps, finally, before the lights go up. Sometimes a seven piece band helps too. [Dave Kerr]