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- Posted on Jul 26th 2010 10:30AM by Tabassum Siddiqui
Montreal "klezmer rapper" Socalled (aka Josh Dolgin) has to be seen to be believed.
There's a reason the crowd-pleasing MC and producer (who also plays the piano and accordion) has an entire documentary film devoted to him. His tongue-in-cheek splicing of traditional Jewish klezmer music with old-school hip-hop beats has raised eyebrows and rocked packed venues for the better part of a decade now, and his Hillside Festival set Sunday afternoon managed to do a bit of both.
Every festival needs a party-starter, and given his reputation for delivering an all-out good time, anticipation ran high at the packed Island Stage by the time Socalled and his six-piece band (including underrated Montreal soul chanteuse Katie Moore) took the stage.
But while Socalled's schtick -- nebbishy-gay-Jewish-geek-turned-hip-hopper (dude was even wearing a CBC shirt!) -- is delightfully absurd enough in itself to never be anything short of amusing, his Hillside set fell slightly short of expectations, never quite taking flight in the way the quirky rapper is capable of during his best performances (which often leave audiences both shaking their heads and losing their minds at the same time).
Initially the oddball rapper took full advantage of the crowd's eager attention, stoking the energy in the tent by dropping fan favourites like 'You Are Not Alone', a perfect example of his blend of low-end beats, nerdy wordplay, and klezmer-influenced melodies (with Moore's vocals taking on an almost Middle Eastern flavour, and some bluesy horn parts cutting through the rhythm).
Though there was plenty of the slyly humorous charm he's known for, with Socalled exhorting the crowd to "throw your G's up" (to represent Guelph, naturally) until the entire crowd was making "G" hand gestures in the air; or quizzically wondering aloud whether there were plenty of rappers in Guelph when he called out for a guest MC to freestyle a verse, the energy in the room began to deflate when interrupted the flow of music by performing magic tricks with a piece of rope between songs.
It seemed to be a tactic to divert the crowd while Socalled attended to his miscuing sampler, but while the tricks themselves were mildly entertaining, taking the focus off the songs served to undercut the festive vibe those on hand were clearly looking for, with many beelining for the nearby beer tent partway through the set.
Despite not quite living up to his usual spirited performances this time around, Socalled still deserves bonus points for getting off one of the best quips of the festival with a nod to some fellow Montreal brethren: "By the way," the bespectacled rapper smirked, "we are Arcade Fire. It's been a crazy year for us -- you know, the selling of the records..."