Review: Action Bronson, Riff Raff combine for weird, memorable set at Tampa Pro Party at the Orpheum in Ybor City
For those looking for something more eclectic in hip-hop, how does a gourmand with a Ghostface Killah flow and a Day-Glo Dadaist of pop-culture detritus sound?
The Skatepark of Tampa tapped that duo for its 21th anniversary and 20th Tampa Pro Party, as Action Bronson and Riff Raff played a sold-out show Friday night at the Orpheum.
Opening was New York group B.I.C. — short for Bitches is Crazy, an exclamation they asked the audience to chant multiple times. They played an energetic set that ended with most of the members shirtless and probably a 12-pack of water bottles thrown into the crowd.
Next was Riff Raff, whose appearance had an unusual local angle, as he’s accused James Franco of using his likeness in his portrayal of the character Alien in Spring Breakers. (Franco claims his performance was based more on St. Pete rapper Dangeruss.)
Who can say, but his set on Friday did bring to mind Spring Breakers. Sporting sunglasses, a grill, bright yellow shorts and blue braids that looked a little like an, yes, alien, Riff Raff performed with a phalanx of scantily clad women and an oversized bottle of vodka.
What also remained uncertain was Riff Raff himself — an eccentric, enigmatic character with lyrics that are often free-association and simplistic. Either you’re on board with a rhyme like “she thought it was a cat phone, now I’m on my bat phone” (from his verse on Chief Keef’s Cuz My Gear, which he performed) or you’re not.
He might infuriate hip-hop purists, but delights others, including some of your favorite rappers. And in Friday’s set, he almost seemed like a performance artist couched in pop culture, including his MTV, BET and Bart Simpson tattoos. The name of his upcoming record Neon Icon is a fitting one — it’s what he’s become.
Then it was time for headliner Action Bronson. The Queens rapper is at his best when immersed in flights of fancy, foodie verses and fun samples, but can come off more than a little ugly when removed from these trappings — like the extremely unpleasant cover of last year’s Saab Stories. Thankfully, he drew heavily from his fun, inventive new mixtape Blue Chips 2 for his set.
What Bronson may be is rap’s most enjoyable hedonist, indulging himself in elaborate fantasies and copious food and drug references. Sometimes it’s more than one at once, like on It Concerns Me, where he imagines catching an octopus barehanded, “grill it, hit it up with olive oil and lemon.”
The night’s most deliriously joyful moment came when Bronson performed Contemporary Man, where he raps while hopping through ‘80s hits like Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, Phil Collins’ Sussudio and John Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane. After that he played Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out and sang along, presumably for no other reason than he likes Billy Joel.
Bronson’s the kind of guy who’d use The Champs’ Tequila as a beat, as he did on his track Pepe Lopez. He later said he was stopping at the bar mid-set — no word on whether he danced on the tabletop a la Pee Wee.
Toward the end of the set, Bronson got up to the balcony to rap Amadu Diablo while overlooking the crowd. He then made his way into it for a song with Riff Raff, who performed from the stage (the two are supposedly releasing a collaboration called Galaxy Gladiators later this year.)
Then the lights came up and the concert concluded for these two rappers who are — in the words of Hunter S. Thompson — too weird to live, and too rare to die.
-- Jimmy Geurts, tbt*