Last Night: Riff Raff at Fitzgerald's

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Riff Raff, Fat Tony, D-Risha etc. Fitzgerald's March 21, 2013

Thursday night at Fitzgerald's was Riff Raff's homecoming show. Sort of. Sure, he's originally from Houston. The story goes that he got his start hawking his CDs at area malls. It's more accurate to say, though, that Riff Raff has no hometown. He simply sprang fully-grown from the imagination of Jody Christian, a local man who made the conscious decision to become a rapping cartoon character.

It's a strange crowd that shows up to see a viral YouTube video made flesh. The audience was made up almost exclusively of twentysomething white kids covered in a mish-mash of hip-hop and hipster gear, and there were enough of them to pack the old club's upstairs room to the rafters.

Not your typical rap crowd, exactly, but then typical rappers don't wear beards that look like they were drawn on by Dr. Seuss.

Nevertheless, everyone seemed to enjoy the undercard, which featured a nice slate of MCs and DJs whose local scene cred (and connection to reality) are unquestionable. Late in the evening, the mighty D-Risha and Fat Tony both turned in characteristically strong sets, and the night's partying seemed to be off to a good start.

As clock crept past midnight with no sign of Riff Raff, though, the crowd started to bristle. Call Jody Highroller a joke, if you must, but he was a joke that people wanted to hear. DJ iPod Ammo did his best to keep things bouncy while we waited, but after a good half-hour of watching a young dance crew bop around to the likes of Soulja Boy, some boos began to rain down.

Then some cups of ice. Then "fuck you" chants. Loud ones.

The dancers were hustled offstage, and the hosts did their best to keep the energy in the room positive, but the crowd had turned on them. For a minute there, it looked like things could get ugly. At the last possible moment, however, Jody Highroller appeared at last, taking the stage to the strains of Lil' Troy's "Wanna Be a Baller" all decked out in a retina-searing yellow Batman trucker cap with matching jersey. The party had officially started.

Now fully juiced, the audience let out a strange rumbling sound and threw up their cameraphones as Riff Raff popped a bottle of champagne, spraying the first several rows. An inflatable sex doll was batted around on the floor, and great handfuls of rice were thrown from the stage into the dark. It was a celebration. This was the crazy shit the people had paid to see.

For his part, Riff Raff proved to be a capable and magnetic performer, even if he seemed to be rapping as much to the cameras onstage as to the people on the floor. Though his pop-culture-packed rhymes come from the fantastical perspective of a true outsider to the local scene, the influence of the Houston sound remains readily apparent in his music. It's more Mike Jones than Scarface, sure. But so what? Mike Jones was fun.

As Jody rattled off crunked, weirdo cuts like "Deion Sandals" and "Jose Canseco," the fans up front went bonkers, rapping right along with every word without the barest suggestion of irony. Others near the back seemed to content to stand around and gawk, taking in the full spectacle on display.

Between swigs off a vodka bottle, Riff Raff made a point to introduce Swishahouse MC Lil' Mario to the crowd as one of the local fixtures who'd inspired him to get into the game, and he even passed him the mike for some freestyling. He also singled out another Northside fixture in the building, chop star OG Ron C, who apparently managed Riff Raff at one point.

Then, in the middle of the song "Lil Mama I'm Sorry," an interesting thing happened. A fight broke out up font, and Riff Raff stopped the show, decrying the violence and ordering the offenders to "knock that shit off."

"Ain't no fightin' at my shows," he insisted. "That shit don't impress nobody!"

All of a sudden, Riff Raff became a real boy, demonstrating real-life concerns about his fans and a general awareness of the reality the rest of us live in. The crowd absolutely loved him for taking charge, and when the song kicked back in, they went off twice as hard.

By the time he closed his 45-minute set with "Cuz My Gear," his viral-video hit collaboration with Chief Keef that includes bizarre lyrics like, "Camp counselor, living in the lap of luxe/Double cheese deluxe in the penguin tux," he'd won over even the dudes with their arms folded.

When the mike went silent, his fans quickly scattered, ready to head home after a long night to upload their footage to YouTube. If seemed awfully appropriate -- after all, Riff Raff may have come from Houston once, but the weird, wild world of streaming HD video is where he belongs. Though his destiny may have taken him far beyond this plane of feasibility, he's welcome to come back and visit anytime.

Personal Bias: How did he get on From Gs to Gents without being either? Was it the MTV neck tat?

The Crowd: Non-blacks.

Overheard In the Crowd: "I just came for the spectacle of seeing Riff Raff." And what did you think? "It's the worst!"

Random Notebook Dump: At the end of the show, there was a fire truck and an ambulance waiting for us out front. Not sure what that was about, but I didn't see any flames or blood.

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