Show Review: Mr. Lif with Willie Evans and Plan B, June 4 at the Gramophone

Okay, so the crowd wasn't exactly what I expected at last night's Mr. Lif show. Given the political and sometimes "radical" nature of his music, I thought the audience would be more -- shall we say -- diverse. Nonetheless, Lif has a message in his music, and if 30-something hipsters (mostly white) are the ones listening, so be it.
Photo: Egan O'Keefe
Mr. Lif at the Gramophone on Thursday night. View more photos
The mood was easy-going and relaxed as DJ Crucial played a mix of classic rap in the background. The show opened up with Crucial's F5 labelmates Nato Caliph and Lyfestile (of Plan B). The duo played a short set to warm the crowd up, including a new song from Nato's latest EP, Power.
Photo: Egan O'Keefe
Nato Caliph at the Gramophone on Thursday night. View more photos

Next up was Willie Evans Jr., an emcee/producer out of Florida with an original and entertaining take on the hip-hop stage show. He started off with a tag-team style verse, which featured him trading bars with rapper P. Locke, via a pre-recorded video on the projection screen. The projector was hooked up to Evans' laptop, which was in turn connected to his MPC, allowing for some clever mixing with video and audio while he performed. The set was innovative and engaging, with a great sense of humor.

My impressions of Mr. Lif from his older videos turned out to be very different than the actual person; he was smaller in stature than I'd imagined, and rather than baggy clothes he dressed in designer jeans with a snug t-shirt and sunglasses. He was still easily identifiable, though, thanks to his trademark feature, those dreadlocks.

Lif didn't seem to have been slowed down any from his injuries (he was involved in a tour bus accident in 2006). He came on deck with his wingman for the evening, New York rapper Metro, as the crowd quickly settled in at the front of the stage.

While much of his music focuses on the economy, the government, etc. Lif showed his lighter side with "Washitup!", a song off his new album, I Heard it Today, intended for those with questionable hygienic practices. At one point, while chatting the crowd up, he took an audience poll on whether or not Marc Bulger should stay in St. Louis (Lif's apparently a huge fan of the NFL).
Photo: Egan O'Keefe
Willie Evans Jr. at the Gramophone on Thursday night. View more photos

Of course, the biggest response came from his heavier material like "What About Us" and "Live from the Plantation"; Lif had plenty of crowd-pleasing material to keep the fans energized. Metro was on-point as well, delivering his hard-edged verses with impeccable timing. The set ended with Lif and Willie Evans Jr. performing a brief freestyle session.

I did have one major gripe; although the venue was nice (as usual), there were some issues with the sound that were never addressed. The bass sounded muffled throughout, and the vocals were often difficult (or impossible) to understand. It's much harder to enjoy the show when you're straining to decipher the lyrics.

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