Le$, Cheldon McQueen Warehouse Live December 22, 2013
Le$, the prolific local rapper and Boss Hogg Outlawz affiliate, managed to cram one last big hip-hop show into Warehouse Live's studio room on Sunday night, and it really couldn't have come at a better time. The man who made his name with a million mixtapes has a young audience currently enjoying Winter Break; without the Le$ concert, they'd have been sneaking around at home, trying to get high without their parents noticing and eating up all the Christmas cookies.
Instead, they were bundled up and packed into the venue, hanging out pretty listlessly through a parade of largely unknown artists and waiting for L-E-Dolla, perhaps the most consistent and fully-realized of Houston's younger crop of money-hungry rappers. With no school (and certainly no work!) in the morning, the crowd showed up early and stayed late, populated in large part by young dudes stroking their first-ever beards and greedily eyeing the cute girls in attendance.
As for the young ladies? They came to dance, but they held out for most of the evening. Short of making it rain onstage, there wasn't a lot that most of the undercard could have done to drag so much as a golf clap out of the crowd. The likes of Morado, Doe Man, Blood Money Cartel and others worked hard onstage to earn a few new Facebook likes, but to call the audience reserved with their affection would be kind. That seems to just be the way it is nowadays at young Houston rap shows.
Sometimes, it feels like even booing would be better than the resolute refusal to acknowledge a performance at all. You're not watching YouTube, kids! This is actually happening! Throw a water bottle at somebody so we know you're alive, please.
People did finally begin to loosen up a bit as the musicians set up their gear for Cheldon McQueen's set. A white 'n nerdy drummer and keyboardist accompanied McQueen during his too-short set, which woke the crowd up with fresh cuts like "Headgames" and "Too Late" from his debut mixtape, Stranger.
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Live bands, even if they comprise just a couple of dudes with drumsticks and a MIDI controller, really add a lot to a rap performance. The crowd was feeling McQueen, and thank God, even if it was only because they knew Le$ wouldn't be far behind. Cheldon managed to get the audience loud, at last, by picking on great civic goat Matt Schaub.
"When I say 'fuck,' y'all say 'Matt Schaub,'" McQueen said. That call and response could have gone on all night.
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Finally, it was Le$'s turn at bat, and the buzz began to shiver through the room in earnest. Suddenly, dozens of joints, blunts and lighters snuck into the venue appeared, and great clouds of smoke began wafting up into the rafters. The stage lights were scaled back to a couple of colored LEDs, giving Warehouse Live the moody feel of a lava lamp's interior. After hours of waiting, the DJ finally, mercifully uncorked some classic Houston rap records ("Knockin' Doors Down," "June 27") as folks got into the right frame of mind for the headliner.
By the time Le$ arrived onstage, the Warehouse Studio smelled like a vaporizer that had been left on for too long, and the rapper could sometimes scarcely be seen through the dim lights and thick smoke. Unencumbered by an entourage, backup band or even a towel boy, the North-sider cut something of a solitary and ghostly figure onstage, but he commanded the crowd with ease all by his lonesome.
Hands, phones and lighters went up and stayed up throughout the revved-up "Racing" and an ecstatic "Third Coastin.'" His voice taut like a snare drum, Le$ brings the same thoughtful poise and laconic energy to his live performances as he does his recordings, and quite a number of fans seemed determined to record every bit of it.
After a mid-set smoke break by the easygoing rapper turned into a smoke break for all of us, Le$ took us home with a suite of mixtape monsters that had the crowd bopping along euphorically. The hungry, energetic triple-stack of "Boats X Heauxs," "Till the Wheels Fall Off" and "Steak & Shrimp" sent 'em home happy, but not before the Boss Hogg Outlaw passed out dozens of copies of his new Gran Turismo mixtape and other goodies.
Christmas morning it wasn't, but the holiday cheer was as thick as the hash-oil vapor inside Warehouse Live on Sunday night. See you again in 2014.
Personal Bias: Unable to keep track of all Le$'s mixtapes.
The Crowd: Young black, Mexican and blaxican hip-hoppers.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Go on, light that shit!"
Random Notebook Dump: Ratio of indoor smokers to outdoor: 12 to 1.
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