Monday, April 11, 2011

At Northeastern, a master class in music appreciation

Wiz Khalifa performed during Springfest at Matthews Arena on Saturday. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

At: Matthews Arena, Saturday

The ideal college course load is one that exposes students to the full spectrum of ideas, past and present. Makes sense then that a school’s spring concert would echo that approach. Springfest at Northeastern ran the gamut of aw-shucks backpacker rap of Mac Miller, the corrosively melodic melodramas of emo linchpins Taking Back Sunday, ’90s alternative rockers Third Eye Blind, and the smoked-out Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa.

The former two acts sounded great from the sidewalk outside the impenetrable venue, where one nonstudent might have found himself engaged in a Kafkaesque ordeal to prove his official existence. Later on, San Francisco hit-makers Third Eye Blind leaned heavily on shoutable anthems from their smash 1997 self-titled debut, whose thunderous reception proved, if nothing else, that college students have a longer pop-cultural memory than you might expect. The crowd’s cheers may have just been the acoustics of the hockey arena’s stone interior playing tricks. Sound concerns notwithstanding, the goofily affable, muscular pop rock of “Graduate’’ and “Jumper’’ presented a strong defense for the band’s longevity.

The sound was more forgiving for Wiz Khalifa and his laptop DJ, but live hip-hop thrives on its ability to make even the biggest venues feel small. Hit or miss here, but at his best, the ascendent charismatic rapper, pumping his recent release, the subtly titled “Rolling Papers’’ featuring the ubiquitous ringtone rap of “Black and Yellow,’’ pulled off that difficult stunt. Credit much of that to his likable stoner’s carriage and smokily-laconic flow on the vaguely romantic phaser-synth of “Pedal to the Metal,’’ thoughtful party-starters like “Wake Up’’ and “The Thrill’’ with its electro-pop Empire of the Sun hook sample, and the aggressively fan-aggrandizing “Taylor Gang.’’
Surprisingly he found his best groove on the introspective “When I’m Gone,’’ a plaintive piano riff that gave way to a pounding bass thud and a reflective lyric. “I can’t take it when I’m gone,’’ he sang. A good lesson for students of any age.

Boston Globe

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