Live review: Cypress Hill at the Troubadour

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About halfway through their show Saturday night at the Troubadour, Cypress Hill took what the group’s frontman, B-Real, described as a smoke break. No surprise there: Even a casual fan of this long-running L.A. hip-hop act knows how crucial marijuana is to the Cypress Hill narrative. And just in case any less-than-casual fans had turned up, B-Real lighted (and inhaled repeatedly from) what appeared to be a six-inch joint, flouting the Troubadour’s strict no-smoking policy along with the herb enthusiast’s informal no-bogarting one.

But after 45 minutes onstage, B-Real and his bandmates -- rapper Sen Dog, DJ Muggs and percussionist Eric Bobo -- seemed also to need a breather. They’d just run through a thrilling recap of their first two albums, ‘Cypress Hill,’ from 1991, and ‘Black Sunday,’ from 1993, both acknowledged classics that did as much as any other record to mainstream the once-forbidding specter of gangsta rap.

Saturday’s concert was billed as a celebration of Cypress Hill’s 20th anniversary, and in their vigorous renditions of early songs such as ‘Insane in the Brain’ and ‘How I Could Just Kill a Man,’ the group demonstrated that two decades of rapacious weed consumption haven’t mellowed an animating spirit of jubilant anarchy. As Muggs triggered the scratchy ‘Duke of Earl’ sample that underpins ‘Hand on the Pump,’ you couldn’t hope for a merrier band of chaos-makers.

Or at least you couldn’t until the show’s second half: Hard won as it may have been, that mid-set smoke break altered Cypress Hill’s chemistry; the outfit never recovered. Inferior material from 1995’s leaden ‘Temples of Boom’ (and more recent efforts, including last year’s so-so ‘Rise Up’) was part of the problem. ‘Illusions,’ ‘Make a Move,’ ‘Dr. Greenthumb’ -- these were charmless variations on themes already clouding the air. (Wisely, Cypress Hill is scheduled to perform ‘Black Sunday’ in its entirety on the upcoming Rock the Bells tour.)

More fundamental, though, was a difference in energy, which didn’t flag exactly but took on a bitterer, more metallic flavor; the music suddenly felt labored and unidirectional, as though B-Real and Sen Dog were now bellowing at the audience, not with it. The severity deepened when an ad-hoc rock band featuring the guitarist Slash joined Cypress Hill for the show’s final two songs, ‘Rise Up’ and '(Rock) Superstar.’ The musicians played well; Christian Olde Wolbers, in particular, added more bounce to the ounce on bass. But that juicy bottom end only emphasized an unfortunate shift in register -- from high to low, blowout to hangover. RELATED:


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-- Mikael Wood