Hundreds of people packed The Middle East’s downstairs Wednesday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Pharcyde’s debut album, “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde,” which was performed from start to finish by members of the original group.
“We been doin’ this shit since 1993!” yelled original Pharcyde member Slimkid3 at one point, polling the concertgoers about the decades they were born in. A vast majority of the crowd hailed from the 80s, while a smaller contingent, closer to the stage, were children of the 90s. Mathematically that meant that the majority of the people in the crowd were at most 12 years old when “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde” was released in 1992, coming as an antidote to the more hardcore gangsta rap coming from the west coast. (At one point in the show, Fatlip mentioned “the east coast showin’ us love” even when the tension between east and west was at its zenith.) Presumably, many in the audience discovered the album years after its initial release, and so one could also assume that the younger showgoers were not there to celebrate two decades of the album’s existence as much as to hear an album that has always been regarded as “classic.”
But regardless of when and where each attendee discovered Bizarre Ride, the level of enthusiasm for the album was universally high at The Middle East. Former Pharcyde members Slimkid3 and Fatlip as well as producers J-Swift and LA Jay hit the stage to perform, and the atmosphere remained electric from the first track to the last. (The group is not technically allowed to tour as The Pharcyde. That right belongs to the group’s other two members, Imani and Bootie Brown.) “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde” is a wonderful relic of old-school hip-hop, a lighthearted romp of an album more suited to the live stage than a pair of earbuds. It’s the kind of album you’d imagine playing during a house party (or a “House Party”).
The show got energized quickly, with the audience bouncing along to “Oh Shit”—a song titled with, depending on the context, a worried exclamation or a phrase to mutter when something exciting is about to happen. At The Middle East, it was the latter.
Supplementing the group were images and video, projected behind the musicians, that corresponded to each track. “Oh Shit” ended with a photo of someone lying down, wearing pants bearing the titular stain. That just about sums up the tone of the show: exciting, impressive, sweaty, and unafraid of the occasional poop joke.
Many of the tracks from Bizarre Ride are easy to sing along to, even if you’ve never heard them before. Most of the choruses are just a single repeated lyric. The crowd chanted along, asking, “Who is the nigga in charge over here? / Who is the nigga in charge?” on “I’m That Type of Nigga” and chanting “ee ah oo ah ah” on “Soul Flower.”
Slimkid3, Fatlip and crew kept the energy going throughout, interacting with the crowd, grabbing phones from the audience in order to take pictures, and—much to the chagrin of security—encouraging members to crowd surf. The room was crowded, but not nearly dense enough to sustain anyone aloft for more than a few seconds. During “Passin’ Me By,” one of the less boisterous tracks on the album but also its most popular cut, audience participation peaked as everyone sang along to the chorus.
The crew carried it home, performing “Quinton’s On The Way (skit)” and “Pack The Pipe” with a lot of audience support. “This isn’t a beer song. This is a weed song,” Slimkid3 announced as the audience cheered. “The pipe, the pipe, let’s pack the pipe!” they chanted.
The album performance came to a close with “Return of the B-Boy,” complete with a breakdancing section particularly impressive given that everyone who was on stage is in their early 40s. But while the group’s faces may show signs of aging, their energy and limberness onstage do not. Even after bouncing around onstage for an hour, nobody looked or sounded closer to retirement than they did on the album 20 years ago.
The final song of the night, “Runnin’,” off of the group’s second album, was a tribute to J Dilla, a deceased producer great. And following that, Slimkid3 announced that the group was working on new material. If that material is nearly as electric as last Wednesday’s performance, it can’t come soon enough.
—Staff writer Brian Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org