(featuring Wyclef Jean, Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise,

Wisechild, Juniper Lane and Mieka Pauley)

July 18, 2003
Centennial Olympic Park - Atlanta


Mieka Pauley:

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Juniper Lane:

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Wise Child:

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Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise:

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Wyclef Jean:

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At this show, Wyclef Jean made a strong case that, when done right, hip-hop is the most vital and entertaining form of live music on the current scene. Backed by a live funk band that was equally compelling at rock, reggae, gospel and dub, the former Fugee tore through an hour plus set that was both hit-heavy and unpredictable. A chilled, dead on cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” had everyone singing from the start. Soon after, the Haitian-born performer dipped into his own catalog for “We Just Tryin’ To Stay Alive,” “Gone ‘Til November” and “Ready Or Not.”

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Fortunately, this was not to be just a parade of singles done dryly. Wyclef pushed the culturally diverse outdoor festival crowd to have fun. In the process, the huge event felt no bigger than a club. He invited members on stage to dance, the most notable being a little girl of about seven that would’ve made James Brown blush with the moves she displayed. Another woman, full-grown and ready to tear it up, started dancing madly. Before long, her clothes started coming off. As Wyclef broke the band into a dub-house beat that was powerful enough to stunt growth, males and females among the huge mass of people started to shed clothes, too. Smiling and declaring, “I didn’t mean to turn this into an x-rated show,” Wyclef had to reign in the usually family friendly festival before it got out of hand. Not completely, though.

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After an extended diatribe about the evils of drugs and which ones he doesn’t do, he added “but I love my marijuana” to the delirium of the crowd. Clearly inspired, a very particular aroma began wafting across the park. For “911,” Wyclef strapped on a guitar and soulfully “seduced” an audience member, even going so far as to sit her on stage and kneel down before her, using her lap as another instrument. He played with his teeth, behind his back and all the other standard tricks, but he didn’t do it for us (the audience). He did it just for her. He (nearly) literally did something for everyone. During the course of his show, the bases from 50 Cent to Carl Perkins were covered. Whether it was “In Da Club” as a “birthday song,” or “Blue Suede Shoes” for the one guy in the audience that Wyclef claimed didn’t get the other material, he reached for everyone in the park individually.

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For the last quarter of the show, he left the stage and roamed the grounds. Accepting backslaps, holding hands, sharing the mic, he did whatever it took to make direct contact with his people. The final song was a new one, an urban anthem calling for an end to black on black crime with lyrics every bit as fanciful and utopian as John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Wyclef mused about a world in which TuPac and Biggie lived to rule hip-hop together. In this world, Suge Knight and Puffy are roommates. There are no denominations and there is no East-West. There is no conflict. There is only the beat, skills and unity, which is what we all felt tonight. If the best way to effect change is to be an example, Wyclef is on the right track. Let’s hope someone is listening.

Chris McKay / concertshots.com

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