Review: Clipping, with Daveed Diggs, trades 'Hamilton' for hip-hop heat at the Local 662 in St. Petersburg
Daveed Diggs is used to performing for roaring crowds. But the one he encountered Tuesday at the Local 662 in St. Petersburg seemed to throw him for a loop.
“We’re gonna need more sound on stage,” the actor and rapper told the audio guys, his gleaming whites and mammoth 'fro visible from the back of the intimate room. “Congratulations. That’s never happened before.”
Diggs and his indie hip-hop trio Clipping were a long way from the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York, where the rapper shot to fame in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s culture-upending musical Hamilton. But judging by the delirious crowd – including a host of middle-agers and a few teens likely out past their normal Tuesday curfew – the spirit of Hamilton was alive and well at the Local.
Clipping -- or clipping., to use their preferred punctuation -- has been around since well before Diggs caught lightning in a bottle on Broadway, winning a Tony for his roles as Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette, and a Grammy for his work on the soundtrack. Diggs and beatmaker William Hutson are childhood friends who, along with fellow producer Jonathan Snipes, signed to Sub Pop in 2013, two years before Hamilton's debut. They’re intense, creative and they’ve got a real vision. They’re legit.
But as Diggs' star rises, will that be enough to keep Clipping intact? With gigs on Black-ish and The Get Down, plus an ascendant film career, how long can Diggs keep the focus away from his longtime solo project?
At the Local, Diggs dutifully played the role of the grateful superstar, posing for gregarious photos with Hamilton fans before the show – and later needling those same giddy shriekers for missing openers Youth Code, saying: “If you were outside trying to get a selfie with me, you f---ed up.”
While Diggs’ celebrity and charisma may have gotten fans in the door, inside, the show was all about his lickety-split skill on the mic, a downhill delivery as impressive as anyone’s – Twista, Busta, Eminem, you name it. This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s attempted to commit Hamilton’s standout Guns and Ships to memory, but Diggs’ breathless flow turned opener The Breach into a reckless lyrical roller-coaster ride. Same with later tracks A Better Place and Taking Off.
Diggs did not, as you might expect, project to the rafters like some Juilliard-trained Broadway star. He played to the fanatics in front, often in a style akin to spoken word: shouts and whispers, ebbs and swells, name-drops of Jay Z on Work Work and Hamlet on Shooter. Sometimes he’d stand behind a mic in its stand; on encore Story, he wove his way through the crowd for an up-close-and-personal performance in the round. It might not have been Hamilton, but it did feel a bit like #Ham4Ham.
As all this was happening, Hutson and Snipes hunched over their mixers and sequencers and samplers, spinning glitchy, house-of-horrors beats and tones over which Diggs could do his thing. Break the Glass and Baby Don’t Sleep also featured tommy-gun snares and trippy sci-fi tones, and the Kanye-like Air ‘Em Out got a huge call and response from the crowd.
It was a curious divide – Diggs rocking a flow that’ll earn him the respect (and envy) of many a mainstream MC, Hutson and Snipes exploring the fringes of palatable hip-hop – but when they connected, did they ever connect. The riotous Body & Blood screamed and squelched like a Major Lazer banger. And the crazed Wriggle luxuriated in Miami bass, rolling and thrusting as the DJs spliced in a line from Tampa native Khia’s My Neck, My Back. That prompted a big laugh from Diggs.
Up until Tuesday afternoon, this show was technically Youth Code’s to headline, which made for a pretty amusing mix of industrial metal fans and musical theater geeks at the Local. But it made sense for Clipping to close the show. Even Youth Code said as much.
“I’ve seen Clipping, I’ve loved Clipping, I’ve been f---ing decimated by Clipping on this run,” said Youth Code vocalist Sara Taylor.
She’s not the only one. It may be a while before Diggs plays another Tampa Bay venue as small as the Local 662. Those roaring crowds will only get louder from here.
-- Jay Cridlin