Wiz Khalifa leads first-rate rap pack in Irvine

Orange County Register - July 20, 2013

True-to-record set from newcomer A$AP Rocky also stands out at Verizon tour stop.


The ongoing Under the Influence of Music Tour has corralled an impressive lineup comprising not only a buzz-worthy ensemble of newcomers like Trinidad James but also radio mainstays like hybrid star B.o.B. The coup de grace of the outing, however, is the dynamic duo of A$AP Rocky and Wiz Khalifa.

Riding a wave of popularity that has seen both acts in dominant rotation with multiple singles and guests spots on this year’s most successful rap anthems, the tandem, which perform again tonight in San Diego, shook Irvine’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Thursday night without the help of the cliché cameos.

Appropriately introduced as the “modern day hippie,” Khalifa emerged from within a haze that consistently enveloped the stage. With his touring band Kush & Orange Juice in tow, he opened with “Bout Me” and convincingly boasted “worried ’bout a hater – not me” as the synth-based low end rumbled toward the lawn section.

He did his best to deliver the smashes this near-capacity crowd expected while showing his creative dexterity via more adult selections during his 90 minutes on stage. Dusting off gems that bolstered his mixtape notoriety, Khalifa performed the Empire of the Sun-sampling track “The Thrill” and gave his rhythm section the spotlight as K&OJ impressively channeled the likes of Shalamar and Ready for the World with “The Kid Frankie.”

Having clearly evolved into a well-rounded entertainer, Wiz here found the middle ground between mindless and mature. Case in point: one of Khalifa’s many wardrobe changes allowed the band to break into an instrumental rendition of the Pharcyde’s “Runnin’,” a morsel that seemed to miss the mark with an audience largely under legal drinking age.

The ebb and flow of the set meant he needed to counter with something hook-heavy – and he obliged with the feel-good single “Young, Wild & Free,” greeted by head-bobbing approval and clouds of marijuana smoke. Khalifa also veered toward his pop sensibility, charging through collaborative efforts “Remember You” (original with the Weeknd) and “Let It Go” (featuring Akon). Hip-hop’s equivalent of arena-rock power ballads did little to assuage the audience’s desire to get stoned and be rebellious, however, nor did the fluidity of neo-soul single “Got Everything” spark much interest.

The 26-year-old MC responded with a raucous barrage, kicking off with the Juicy J anthem “Show Out” and, without pause, pummeling the crowd with his remix of Rocko’s “U.N.E.N.O.” followed by his verse on the Sean Kingston hit “Beat It.” That segment was capped with the pill-popping Tyga collaboration “Molly,” prompting elation from fans.

A$AP Rocky, meanwhile, Harlem’s champion of hip-hop’s DIY movement, relished his new top-tier status. Critically lauded for his January debut Long.Live.A$AP, the 24-year-old also used a live band to augment what became a rousing hour-long turn.

Embracing a much more ominous tone, the gritty lyrics of his current title track proved one of the best examples of Rocky’s appeal. A mix of drug culture and depravity is undercut with a real sense of introspection, one that he delivers fluently, commanding the listener’s attention.

The clap-track cadence of “Wassup” provided him with a solid showcase of his rhyming prowess. Utilizing a steady move and poetic license, Rocky would take time after songs, as if giving himself approval of his performance, smiling at the crowd and soaking in the affirmation.

“Sometimes I forget I am onstage,” he said. “This doesn’t feel like work.” That ingratiating moment prompted fans to rain the rapper with more than a handful of smoke-able party favors.

“Goldie,” “Fashion Killa” and a short rendition of his “Hands on the Wheel” collaboration with Schoolboy Q proved strong but paled in comparison to the response that singles like “Wild for the Night” drew.

Gratefully, A$AP steered clear of typical microphone barking that happens at most rap shows, giving instead a true-to-the-record kind of performance. It was so well-received that he earned an encore, which permitted him to perform one of the songs that introduced his brand to the world, “Peso.”

The Under the Influence of Music Tour continues tonight, July 19, at Chula Vista’s Sleep Train (formerly Cricket Wireless) Amphitheatre, $26-$65.50.

Photo: Kelly A. Swift, for the Register