On more than one occasion, we have planned to drive to Birmingham to see a hip-hop group called G-Side perform. For whatever reasons, things have fallen through at the last minute. Fact: Although Birmingham isn’t that far away, going to a show up there means four hours in the car, on a weeknight, and no drinking.
So although I absolutely love most of G-Side’s album, Huntsville International, and even though they are from Alabama and play Birmingham fairly often, I’ve never seen them live. And they’ve never been to Montgomery.
So when I found out that Helicity had somehow convinced them to play at the conclusion of the amazing downtown street fair, I was thrilled. I spent the week imagining them making reference to the line on their breakout album where they say that Huntsville should have been Alabama’s capital (Would a Montgomery crowd boo?). I imagined them gesturing at the dome of the capitol building behind them and relating state politics to their working class subject matter.
Now, this is not the time to do a full review of the street fair, but let me just say that I thought it was great. But when it was time for G-Side’s festival-closing hour long timeslot, most of the crowd had cleared out. There were maybe 20-25 people gathered around the stage, a number that looked even smaller outdoors with the giant empty expanse of Dexter Avenue behind the audience.
G-Side is used to selling out large rooms and their records are held in extremely high esteem by any large number of music critics around the world. Listen to this NPR stream of one of their shows if you’re interested in what they can do. Their lyrics contain globalist thinking (especially about Europe) that is rooted in Huntsville and Athens, Alabama. They connect precisely articulated verses with top-shelf breath control to memorable hooks and choruses. So, bottom line, they are a fairly big deal and could have been pretty annoyed to be playing in front of a microscopic crowd of people who (putting it generously) seemed only generally familiar with G-Side’s catalog.
Nope. They were professional. They battled sound problems for an entire hour, even taking a break to freestyle a minute while the soundboard guy half-heartedly twiddled some nobs. Seriously, the sound guy had a drink in one hand while he pushed a few buttons with the other, but G-Side was good natured, and said (correctly) that sound guys are often unfairly maligned at hip-hop shows. They patiently kept going like true pros, seamlessly meshing verses over the beautiful singing provided by P.H. (their backing singer who crushed some high notes and provided a beautiful A Capella song as the mic check).
G-Side could have walked off or, more likely, loafed it through a handful of songs. They could have used the small crowd and sound problems as an excuse to blow out of Montgomery and never come back. They didn’t. They played some stuff I’ve never heard (I’m less familiar with their new album), some songs that I like (“My Aura”), and seemed like they had a fairly decent time, even though it was almost certainly disappointing.They came across as incredibly thoughtful guys with tremendous skills.
If you weren’t there (and you probably weren’t), you missed a good show. It wasn’t great in the sense that I wish I had a recording of it for future listening. But it was great in the sense of a fantastic rap duo (and a great backing singer) stepping up and being total professionals under less-than-ideal circumstances. It was great in the sense that our local rappers (who recently made headlines for a cross town shooting war) could take some lessons from Huntsville on how to do it right and make music that everyone in Alabama can be proud of.
It wasn’t what I would have wanted for seeing G-Side in concert for the first time, but it was pretty cool nonetheless. Here’s hoping that they’ll stay after it and that they’ll unleash their powers on Montgomery again sometime in the near future.