Expectations were high in the weeks leading up to this year’s Summer Breeze concert. With headliners Damian Marley and Nas, accompanied by the indie rock group The Dirty Projectors and DJ OCD Automatic, the show offered a lineup that appealed to fans of several genres. Those expectations were exceeded as the main acts all offered powerful performances, rocking the mass of students packed into Hutch courtyard.
The evening began with the recently renamed student group Gold Horse, whose eclectic instrumentation warmed up listeners and got them moving in anticipation of later acts. The Dirty Projectors stepped onstage for a raw, high-intensity opening, which receded after frontman David Longstreth donned a beat-up guitar for some of the band’s more mellow material. The crooning melodies of songs like “Stillness is the Move” were reserved but, despite their unpolished indie feel, the group was able to get heads bobbing simply through the power of their talented musicianship.
The opposite was true for the following act, as the incessant thumping of Green Lantern failed to generate much enthusiasm, despite his increasingly desperate pleas for the audience to dance along. As the beat dragged on, the crowd’s initial ambivalence gradually morphed into impatience and anticipation of the main acts.
Nas and Marley are soon to embark on their Distant Relatives tour, but the two seemed more like brothers as they took the stage, smiling and bouncing together to the rhythms of their backing band. They opened with “As We Enter,” a thumping, fast-paced song that instantly energized the crowd. Damian’s vocals rung out from beneath a twirling Lion of Judah flag. Nas, meanwhile, strutted back and forth across the stage, breathlessly spitting his powerful rhymes. Their ensemble was also noteworthy, providing everything from a classic reggae skank to the harsh riff from Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” as sampled on Nas’ track “Hip-Hop is Dead.”
Much of what makes the recent collaborations between Marley and Nas so powerful is that they both put the integrity of their music above their egos, allowing them to weave the best aspects of their individual styles into a cohesive unit that still maintains the integrity of their unique sounds. While many collaborations between already-established artists feel either contrived or competitive, Nas and Marley’s styles converge on shared themes of African heritage and political change.
This cooperative dynamic also dominated their performance, with the duo alternately taking turns singing songs or verses and sharing the spotlight for choruses. From the darkly political “Africa Must Wake Up” to the more upbeat tempos of “Tribal War,” they seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves onstage, making it easy for students to dance along.
While much of the concert was devoted to songs from Nas and Marley’s upcoming album, both artists made sure to revisit their individual hits. Nas’ rendition of “One Mic,”--accompanied by a djembe drum--was a crowd-pleaser, and his a cappella finale of ‘Made You Look’ was nearly drowned out by an eruption of cheers. Similarly, Damian Marley’s reggae classic “Welcome to Jamrock” was right on key, inspiring an elated yells from fans.
If anyone underperformed, it was the audience itself, repeatedly failing to live up to the performers’ call-and-response expectations. The performers were eventually able to coax the crowd to sing along to the refrains of “Road to Zion” and their cover of Bob Marley’s “No More Trouble,” but both Nas and Damian initially chastised listeners for their unenthusiastic responses.
The final song, Damian Marley’s rendition of his father’s classic, “Could You be Loved?” was a beautiful way to close the show—a subtle reminder that Bob Marley’s legacy is safe in the hands of these two talented performers.