Atop a hill in Burbank, hip hop icon Common descended backed by Double G and his 50-piece Stardust Symphony, incandescent and bombastic. Though much of the atmosphere was owed to the Starlight Bowl itself — a kind of shrunk-down Hollywood Bowl, complete with a grassy knoll from which to picnic and watch the show. But the enchantment was only magnetized by Common’s enthusiasm. He might’ve walked onstage serene as can be, opening his set with some ritualistic smudging to cleanse the area and himself, the moment the music started he became the show’s live-wire. The amphitheater might’ve been crowded with the biggest Common fans in all of Southern California but no one was as animated as the man himself.
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Opening with a string of jams like “Imagine” and the vibrantly joyous “The Corner,” Double G and the Stardust Symphony made it clear from the get-go exactly why they were present. Swelling melodies and soaring anthems lent exceptional sonic breadth thanks to the various string, brass, percussion, and backing vocal sections. Known for being one of the most socially conscious rappers, both in music and action, Common’s set was intentionally cathartic. Especially coming as it does on the tail-end of particularly tumultuous two years — not to mention the return of concerts and such large communions of people and music.
And Common being Common, only added to the communitive nature of the show by taking time to really speak to the crowd rather than just sing at them. Of course, fans were also there to cut loose and dance — and Common had no problem encouraging that either. Getting down onstage himself as the crowd lost it to his cover of “Get Em High.
But plenty of the stellar energy that Common’s set overflowed with was owed to the evening’s openers: Los Angeles’ Nikka Costa and Boston funk-heads Lettuce, with DJ Novena Carmel keeping the party going in between sets as the night’s MC. It might have been a scorcher when Costa took the stage but the afternoon sun was competing with the Domenica singer’s sweltering, foot-stomping blends of R&B, soul, and blues. It wasn’t a night to show up and just sit around — Costa made sure everyone was on their feet working up an easy sweat.
The audience’s reward for keeping up with Costa was Lettuce and their seemingly infinite, spellbinding, soundscapes. Between hypnotic movements of bass and thrilling drum rushes, Lettuce arrived just as some shade did, allowing fans to chill in bliss to the band’s impossibly infectious funk pieces.
Words / Photos by Steven Ward