“Where the party at? We want the party up here!” hollers genial MC Posdnuos, raising his hand above his head. Two songs in, the party is somewhere around waist-level – lukewarm, with potential. But then the Long Island legends’ nine-piece live band start vamping on Steely Dan’s Peg – the key sample within Eye Know, a smash off their landmark 1989 debut 3 Feet High And Rising – and the party, well, it can now be located somewhere near the ceiling.
For years De La Soul have valiantly resisted definition as a “heritage” hip-hop act – tough work when your debut threatens to overshadow your three subsequent masterpiece albums, not to mention last year’s worthy And the Anonymous Nobody. Tonight, Pos and Trugoy juggle crowd-pleasers with deep cuts for the loyal fans and new tracks for themselves. It helps that the new album is strong, and that a couple of its guest stars – Estelle and Damon Albarn – are here in person, helping make up for the absence of DJ/MC Maseo, hospitalised with food poisoning.
It also helps that De La Soul do “live” hip-hop better than most, with a back catalogue even the shoddy sound can’t scupper. The highlights – A Rollerskating Jam Named “Saturdays” played as full-on disco stormer; a deep, uplifting I Am, I Be; Stakes is High bringing heavy, momentous wisdom – speak to a group who can rock a party with soul, depth and joy. The new material, meanwhile, is evidence of a group with more than just an unimpeachable history, but a future as well.