Juice packs, babies and bittersweet goodbyes

Big brother needed: The album Hell Hath No Fury by Clipse is one of the best rap records ever made. Don’t listen to me, just think about the fact that XXL magazine gave it an XXL rating (the equivalent of five stars) upon its 2006 release; that’s an honor they’ve only bestowed upon a handful of records. Clipse, two brothers from Virginia—Terrence “Pusha T” Thornton and Gene “Malice” Thornton—mine the familiar themes of drugs and money with dark humor and poetic phrasing. Here’s a sample Pusha T verse about the cocaine trade: “Out in Panama in the amazing sun / I’m amazing, son / You niggas wonder where my grace is from / I speak with corrupted tongue / Recognized the underworld since I was young.”

The Neptunes produced the entire Fury album, which gives it a coherent sound—one that’s snaky and ominous, leavened by tinkling triangles and bubbling synth lines. Pharrell raps and sings on so many of the tracks on both this album and its predecessor, 2002’s Lord Willin’, that he practically seems like the group’s third member.

Which raises the question: Now that Pusha T has released his first solo album, how does he fare without the support of his brother and the Neptunes?

The artist’s November 30th visit to Ace of Spades gave him an opportunity to answer that question. But first the audience was made to suffer through three hours of opening acts of varying quality. One guest crew wandered sleepily out onstage only to have a couple of its members proceed to plop down by the deejay platform and text. At one point there was also a baby onstage. Some rappers tossed out Capri Sun juice packs to the crowd. The DJ played tracks such as the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize,” which made me realize that this song is now my generation’s equivalent of “Pretty Woman”: a great song that I never, ever want to hear again.

Pusha finally took the stage at 11 p.m. for a large but only moderately enthusiastic crowd. The sound was super muddy—he performed a couple of Clipse songs early, but I didn’t recognize “Grindin’” until the song got to the chorus. If anyone thought Pusha T would perform Clipse’s greatest hits (OK, I was kind of hoping he would), the artist quickly dashed those hopes by declaring, “Enough of that throwback shit.” Almost half of his set consisted of his recent Kanye West collaborations, including two tracks from West’s 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Makes sense; Pusha T’s latest album, My Name Is My Name, was released via West’s GOOD record label (a subsidiary of the Island Def Jam Music Group), and West produced and co-wrote much of its music.

The hip-hop artist performed standout tracks from that record, including the spare and intense Kendrick Lamar collaboration “Nosetalgia” and the moody tune “Sweet Serenade” which, on record, features a chorus by creepy fedora-wearer Chris Brown.

It was a treat to see Pusha T in the flesh, but the energy of the crowd was low and the 30-minute show lacked that frisson that takes things to the next level. Maybe Pusha does need Pharrell and his big bro after all. These days, Malice goes by the name No Malice and has found God—so that one’s iffy, but Pharrell produced two of the best tracks on My Name Is My Name, so King Push just might reign again.

—Becky Grunewald

Goodbye is never forever: Sacramento power-pop legends the Decibels played what will likely be the band’s final show on November 30 at Old Ironsides. Well, its final stateside show, anyway. The four-piece, fronted by Dean Seavers, is making a jaunt to Spain this month to play a few gigs, but due to ongoing throat problems for Seavers—the songwriter-vocalist is dealing with a recurring condition that causes tumors to grow on his vocal chords—this was probably the last chance to see them locally. At least it was a doozy. The band, which has been around in one form or another since 1993, played to a packed and sweaty crowd, and despite the emotional weight that the evening carried, the mood was nonetheless festive and energetic, joyful even. Seavers may not sing again after that trip abroad, but if this must be the end, then what a beautiful end it has been.

—Rachel Leibrock