Over a ‘Great Expanse’ of 20 plus years, I would have seen the Hilltop Hoods perform live six or seven times now. While, yes, the sets and crowds continue to get bigger, and the pyrotechnics, lighting and venues continue to improve, what hasn’t changed – and what I suspect is the real reason thousands flock year after year to see the Hoods - is the energy the famous trio bring to every city they visit. Enamoured by fans young and old, Suffa, Pressure and DJ Debris blessed a sold out crowd in Brisbane on Saturday night. Here’s just one Brissie girl’s recollection of her time in ‘The Nosebleed Section’.
An X-ecutioners fan from way back, I was disappointed to not quite get to see all of DJ Eclipse’s set. Fortunately, Brisbanites can catch the Brooklyn born turned Aussie local fairly regularly. It’s obvious why Eclipse continues to receive accolades for his blending, scratching, and beat juggling. Having been in the business; the ‘Show Business’; for nearly three decades now, and having even being credited with helping to pioneer turntablism, Eclipse still knows how to hypnotise an audience. Previously, he’s explained the benefits of playing to an Australian crowd: a crowd noticeably more open to showing their excitement than those in the Big Apple. He takes us on a journey. His own journey emanates from every set performed – there’s no mistaking the sounds of the New York scene in the late 90’s, a time referred to as the Golden Era of Hip Hop for a reason. How appropriate then that the revered DJ is now signed to the Hoods label entitled, Golden Era Records. Fortunately for me, this also means Eclipse returns to the stage for A B Original’s set.
Until then though, crowds are treated to an all-too short set by young Kenyan powerhouse Elsy Wameyo. Like the Hoods, this talented vocalist grew up in Adelaide and though relatively new to the scene, it’s obvious she won’t be an ‘Outcast’ for long. Her flow is flawless, fast paced and frenetic. Her professionalism and range allow seamless switches between soulful ballads like Daily and festival-bound bangers like the River Nile. Come the third song, Promise, Elsy entices the Brisbane audience, initially hesitant to get involved, to sing along. Though just four of her usual 7-piece band join her this time, they too are exceptional. If you are yet to listen to Elsy, make it a priority. I genuinely can’t help but move when her beats drop.
When aptly named A B Original (say that quickly now) hit the stage, the energy continues. Unapologetically political, Briggs and Trials continue their mission of presenting young Indigenous Australians with a vision and a sound of what’s possible. Previously they’ve reflected on not having local Indigenous rappers to look up to as children. Like Elsy before them, they are initially - and visibly - disappointed with the audience replies, but soon get us joining into their passionate set which includes King Billy CokeBottle, 2 Black 2 strong, Black Balls and their version of Paul Kelly’s Dumb Things among others. Joined by a pianist, DJ Eclipse, guest vocalist for January 26 and the equally powerful and multi-talented Mo’Ju, A B perform passionately. They suitably warm the audience up for what is sure to be a killa night ahead.
At about this time, my friend and I start taking bets on whether the floor-to-ceiling maroon velvet curtain hiding the ‘real’ stage will drop or rise when the Hoods come on. It drops…revealing a 5 metre-high, platform for Debris constructed upon a massive HTH fluro-illuminated emblem. Perhaps the Hoods need to get better at keeping secrets though – ha ha – fans like me had already seen the set when they’d posted it on social media earlier that day. Hey, it’s understandable – as was Debris’ obvious excitement during footage of him first seeing his coveted office-space for the night. Who says working from home is the best?!?
And so, the stage alights – literally with fire -and Suffa and Pressure start their marathon performance with Leave me Lonely, running to and fro, jumping non-stop and leaving no doubt that these veterans can still cut it. In May I had the privilege of sitting down with Suffa Mc (see that whole interview here). During our chat he was telling me how earlier that day his personal trainer had nearly broken him – you can see why that’s necessary – neither him nor Pressure stop to take a breath for most of the 90plus minute set, a set they’re next taking to Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide. Though an older fan like me would have liked more from the first two albums, their inclusion of Chase that Feeling made me very happy, and reminiscent. It’s also during this song that I first realise just how far out into the crowd the rappers can come.. and they do so often. Indeed, making their crowds feel welcome and involved is clearly a mission of the trios. Favourites Nosebleed Section and 1955 come next, the latter of which sees guest vocalist, Nyassa, join the stage. She wears what has come to be her signature look including headband, and a boxy jumpsuit with shoulder pads that would impress even the 1980’s. Her mic seems quite quiet at first but this is later rectified. Like time travellers we’re suddenly thrown back to the present, with not one but two new songs busted out: first Show Business – normally featuring Eamon and the song that gave the tour its title and then Whole Nights Day, the tune that got ‘the 1955 band back together’.
By now I’m predicting a few slower tracks – surely these two are going to pass out at any minute…. but I’m wrong. They pick up the pace once again and get everyone back on their feet for I Love It. This track is hot, and not just because the flame throwers have come alive again. Suffa and Pressure alike are sweating. So are we but in the best way possible. Ok, so I was one song off. The pace does slow briefly for Let You Down. Clark Griswald follows – but where are those grey wigs, plaid vests and Chinos fellas? Nearly didn’t recognise ya!
Despite being a diehard fan, there are a few songs, typically those with guest vocalists, that I haven’t always appreciated as much as I should have. Songs that just ‘bang’ with so much more ‘buck’ when live. This is true of Exit Sign I think. It’s so much fun. Live and Let Go follows with the crowd singing along in the absence of Maverick Sabre and Brother Ali. It is at this point, during Through the Dark that the Hoods, and Pressure specifically, remind us of just how far they’ve all come, just how versatile they are … and how blessed. Written hospital bedside in 2014 while his son battled Leukaemia, Pressure explains this was one of the hardest songs to ever write. Thankfully, this prayer “to Hip Hop Almighty” was answered and post a full recovery, his son’s battle has inspired a collaboration with CanTeen offering young cancer patients Side of Stage perks. If you’ve never looked at the lyrics for Higher – the set’s next track- go check them out. With almost as many cultural references as an all-time fav of mine, Fifty-in-five, such writing reminds us that the Hoods are indeed dope lyricists, poets even, not just Emcees with flows for days. At this point, Nyassa leaves the stage. Though clearly a talented vocalist, the Hoods ever the professionals, are generous to a fault and gracious, even giving her literal centre stage for the entire time she joins them. Perhaps Suffa and Pressure instead envied Debris birds’ eye view – both joining him at different parts of the set. Counterweight channels eerie Radiohead vibes to start but also lets the drummer and the horns section show off their skills. This is a great example of a tune that should shut down any haters who might dismiss Hip Hop as lacking melody. Indeed, the Hoods don’t just “write rhymes” but have consistently pushed the boundaries of the genre – highlighted best perhaps by their ongoing collaborations with symphony orchestras both on stage and in the studio.
And just like that “they came and they conquered”… well not quite. I sometimes get annoyed at Brisbane crowds – often their demand for encores are not what they should be! But, true to form, the Hoods treat us to not one but two extra songs: Rattling the Keys to the Kingdom and, as predicted, Cosby Sweater. All supports are welcomed back on stage too and the Brisbane Entertainment Centre really lights up. “And it’s all good. And it’s all good. And it’s all good”.
Suffa, Pressure, Debris you continue to amaze. You continue to educate but “it would take a nation of millions to stop” me requesting that you play your millions of fans more of The Calling, The Hard Road and State of The Art next time. Cos, like you, “we’re still standing and we’ll be back again.”