Last Night: Wale at House of Blues

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Wale House of Blues January 30, 2012

Ralph Victor Folarin, known to his hip-hop fan base by pen name Wale, has just released a mixtape, titled after his surname: Folarin. Reviewers praise the new effort, saying it rounds the bend toward coming full circle back to Wale's lyrically quirky early efforts.

We agree; despite a litter of regrettably dumbed-down songs and albums dropped while lapping up the leftover limelight of Lord Rick Ross and his MMG minions, here Wale returns to lyrical fighting form on Folarin. His only changes are production; he swaps his trademark go-go clangs for African drums.

Wale must sense fans' appetite for the mixtape, since the majority of his show at the House of Blues Wednesday night served from that well-cooked roux of songs -- once he finally showed up to the venue.

"Make some noise if you're ready to see Wale!" shouted DJ Mr. Rogers at around 10 p.m., a phrase repeated by DJ 5'9 an hour later, to be repeated by opening act Black Cobain a little after that. Finally, at approximately 11:30, Wale did finally rush the stage, and the responses had turned from those initial screams into half-hearted cheers; it was nearing (most of our) bedtimes.

Ironically, the room's collective quiet created the perfect scenario for Wale's drop-kick show-starter: a lively performance of "Chun Li" from the new release. Stirred from their slumber, the crowd once again screamed for more, and Wale was ready to give it to them.

But not before a tiny technical tweak.

"These lights are too bright. This ain't a Broadway musical," the rapper shouted, nearly walking off the stage. With the "error" fixed, Wale finally felt comfortable enough into a couple more mainstream spins.

For the Folarin set of songs, a bass guitarist and drummer joined the DJ already onstage in what may be the greatest metaphorical example of what Wale is: a curious mix of substance and synthetics -- a pairing that doesn't always work, neither in Wale's music nor onstage.

But when it does, it congeals supremely, particularly during the rapper's performance of the "Rack City (Remix)," the infamous dirty-bass plucks of that song made even dirtier by the guitarist plucking them out onstage.

The night would provide more treats. Ever the spontaneous showman, Wale jumped down into the crowd during a song, prompting his beefy security guard into the depths with him. He unabashedly pulled a funny-looking cigarette out in full view of the audience during "Money Changes," huffing out a puff of smoke, despite his claims to wait to smoke with key audience members (read: groupies) later.

"I'm smoking ganja tonight!"

His best surprise came as assistance by crooner Tiara Thomas, who blended her voice and acoustic guitar into a live performance of the pair's duet, "Bad."

There have been media claims that Wale's skittishness in interviews of late is due to increased drug usage, but the rapper showed no signs of a problem Wednesday. Instead, by performing crowd-pleasers like "The One Eye Kitten Song" and "H20" with a shot of equal parts lyrical accuracy and surefire chauvinism, he assured that MMG's late cancellation last year was made up for -- in full.

Lord Ross would've been pleased.

Personal Bias: I was first introduced to Mr. Folarin when he performed at my college's Homecoming concert. Back then, he was an introspective and funny lyricist. I (and my peers) lost interest as he got more mainstream, but Folarin proves that you can go home again. Welcome back, old friend.

The Crowd Older people like Wale, too! But mostly 20- to 30-year-olds.

Seen in the Crowd: A sloppy, fall-down-drunk man, who had to be kicked out of the VIP area and escorted out of the venue.

Random Notebook Dump: House of Blues is kind to small people. I saw Wale the entire concert.

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