Blu & Exile @ The Observatory OC

In case you didn’t catch it, last month I wrote a piece on my 10 favorite songs by the revered West Coast hip-hop duo. I also mentioned that they would be going on tour in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of their classic debut album Below the Heavens. Last Thursday, Blu, Exile and company stopped in Orange County for the second show of the tour, and you better believe I was there. Here’s my recap.

Blu & Exile have been at it for a good while now. It’s hard to believe they first collaborated over a decade ago. Going into the show, I couldn’t have been more excited to see one of my favorite albums ever come to life. On top of that, the concert was at The Observatory in Santa Ana, a venue that holds a special place in my heart for its trashy intimacy and the countless amazing shows I’ve caught there over the past few years.

Considering this was a relatively local show for Blu & Ex, there was a pretty decent turn out for a Thursday night. The show started off with sets from frequent Blu & Exile collaborators and close friends, Pistol Mcfly, Co$$ (aka Cashus King), King Choosey and Johaz from Dag Savage. Their performances were something every hip-hop head could appreciate. None of these guys have ever been big stars, but they went out and rocked their sets from start to finish with loads of charisma and enthusiasm.

On top of the solid openers, the audience was in for another treat. Exile came out and DJ’d the entire show, from the first opening act to the very last song. He’s quite the entertainer on stage, playing a majority of his beats live on his MPC rather than just playing the recording. At one point he even began playing the machine with his head – it was unreal!

After the rest of the gang did their thing, Blu came out on stage to a powerful applause. It was pretty surreal to see just how impactful of a record Below the Heavens was to everybody inside that venue. Without hesitation, they jumped right into their first song, “My World Is…”, the intro track to their legendary album.

From that point on, the duo didn’t miss a beat. They continued playing the record straight through, spinning every cut from the backpack rap anthem “The Narrow Path” to the romantic “Dancing In the Rain” to the soulful “Show Me the Good Life”.

Exile kept the crowd amused with his MPC freestyles, often improvising beats at the end of songs just to flex his producer muscles. Blu seemed so self-absorbed in each verse he rapped to the point where he was hardly moving on stage. Usually, high energy is one of the things that makes being up close for rap shows so great, but as the concert went on it started to make more sense as to why Blu was so still.

The beats were so good you couldn’t resist nodding your head and swaying your hands, but each time Blu raised the mic to his lips, you got the impression that everybody was listening more than anything. It’s as if everyone in the crowd was trying to embrace the lyrics so deeply, they would be able to walk out of the show with them and take them home to keep forever.

After ‘closing’ their memorable set, Blu & Exile looked as if they were about to head off stage, but stopped and squatted behind the DJ booth to tease the audience over playing a couple more songs. They delivered, playing two unreleased tracks that were recorded in the Below the Heavens sessions, that could possibly see release in the near future. If that would be the case, the hip-hop community would welcome them with open ears

After the show I waited around to see if I could say what’s up and score an autograph. Blu never made it out, but fortunately I got the chance to talk to both Choosey and Exile, and even got a CD signed while I was at it. Turns out Choosey and Johaz are both from San Diego just like me, who knew?

All in all it was a great night and an amazing show, especially considering it was only $5 (thanks Observatory lol). In the end it was worth much more than that though. To see such a classic album from two of my favorite artists performed live in concert was beyond special and something I’ll remember for a long time. I’m going to have catch them again though, because I still need that autograph from Blu.

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