Show review: Freddie Gibbs at 7th Street Entry

Freddie Gibbs gets infected with Minnesota nice at 7th Street Entry Saturday night.

Griffin Fillipitch

The first time I saw Freddie Gibbs live was his performance at the 2010 Pitchfork Music Festival. Despite his self-constructed gangster reputation, Gibbs’s technical abilities as a rapper and strong production choices had allowed him to galvanize a good amount of buzz in the predominantly white and middle-class indie world. Modern indie-rap is ruled by punchlines and catchiness, but Gibbs favors fast talking realism and un-showy instrumentals that hearken back to New York rap of the ’90s. It is refreshing.

Gibbs was a highlight of the festival that year. Even with strict time constraints for each set, he was called back for an encore. On the same stage where Das Racist (rappers full of the pop culture references and snideness that indie kids love) bombed a year later, Gibbs lead chants about foreign topics like evading police and living in poverty, and did so to universal, ecstatic applause.

The reaction was about the same last Saturday night when Gibbs came to the 7th Street Entry. The opener, local rapper Muja Messiah, set the stage well with a lively and clever set. But the presence and power of Freddie Gibbs set him apart immediately and throughout the night.

This time, it was less of a surprise though. The year and a half that have passed since his Pitchfork show have been good to Gibbs, resulting in a collaboration with genius producer Madlib and a couple of hit mixtapes. The crowd was chanting his name well before he made it to the stage. And when he did make it there, thirty minutes late, no one held it against him. Besides, no amount of time could change the impact his emotional, intense and occasionally earnest lyrics about life in Gary, Indiana.

The excitement of a live band is impossible to replace, and many rap shows have the pratfall of relying on the DJ too much. Gibbs avoided this by rapping a verse and chorus of almost every song a cappella, before letting the beat drop. It was an astute strategy that simultaneously built tension and allowed him to showcase his automatic timing and smart lyricism. Without any backing music, Gibbs’s cool became even more contagious, and resulted in some of the night’s most thrilling moments.

That said, standard versions of songs like “Thuggin'” and “National Anthem” were highlights as well.

His energy was considerably lower than it was two summers ago at Pitchfork, but his charm continues to successfully toe the line between infectious likeability and intimidation. Machiavelli would tell Gibbs to rule a crowd by fear rather than love, but he instead chooses an equal amount of the two.

A good example of this balance came when a small, fratty looking kid wandered up on stage during “The Ghetto,” probably Gibbs’s best song.

Gibbs worked through the song like a pro. Once it was over, though, he addressed the fan.

“Do you even know you’re on stage right now?” Gibbs asked, which was a fair question, as the guy was clearly wasted.

“Anyone ever tell you that you look just like Fred Savage from ‘The Wonder Years’?”

Gibbs paused for laughs before adding, “Get off the stage!”

It was hilarious, and harsh for a moment. But as the kid took his place back in the crowd, Gibbs shot him and the rest of the audience a smile. He, unlike most of his songs, has a sense of humor, which is probably essential when you’re telling a chorus of kids, whose parents are paying for their tuition, to scream “[Expletive] the world!”