SFCritic Road Trip: Humboldt County Pops Off with Halloween Special; Talib Kweli and Lyrics Born Rock Intimate Venue


After weeks of anticipation, a charged Humboldt County donned their most eccentric Halloween garb and partied down with hip-hop icon Lyrics Born and the already-legendary conscious rapper, Talib Kweli. I’d been looking forward to this event for weeks, curious to explore the music scene in such a unique pocket of NorCal. Friday’s show did nothing but obliterate any reservations I had about Arcata’s ability to get down. If you’ve yet to experience a show in Humboldt, get there as fast as you can.

What made this sold out show so memorable was the opportunity to see such phenomenal sets featured in an intimate, and uniquely personal venue. Portuguese Hall, an antiquated building established in 1916, essentially serves Humboldt as a modest community center. Old wooden beams lined the ceilings, adorned by slanted dusty chandeliers, giving it this down-home, almost archaic character. Meanwhile, speakers blasted and masses bounced in unison, devouring up familiar freestyles. Amongst the crowd were wildly festive hill-dwellers and city kids, dressed as everything from erotic unicorns, to spirit animals and Jedi masters, all hyped and prepared to rage.

The night began with Berkeley’s own Lyrics Born (LB), throwing it down with his signature style of cascading freestyles driven by a contagiously funkadelic bass line. Widely known for his work with the early 90’s underground hip-hop label Solesides and his partnership with Lateef the Truthspeaker, LB thrilled the crowd with a wide array of familiar hits. His stage presence was energized and electrifying, yet his delivery had a seemingly cool and effortless punch to it. He continuously vitalized the crowd as he grooved from track to track of various popular albums including Later That Day and As U Were. With slapping tracks like “Callin Out” and “I Changed my Mind,” it was impossible not to slip into a late 1960’s trance, directed by the groovy feel of his funky fusion.

After this incredibly charged set from Lyrics Born, we were primed and fired up for the transition into Kweli’s much–anticipated appearance. Momentum built rapidly as the crowd clapped and screamed eagerly, summoning Kweli until he finally came blazing onto center stage with fists up prompting us, “Get your fuckin’ hands in the air!” The crowd responded with an explosion of energy and was instantly swept away into a high-powered, commanding, hip-hop performance.  With generations of material he delivered a hypnosis from start to finish, wooing the ladies with “Hot Thing,” and throwing down classics still proven to make a crowd move. The crowd chanted along track to track hitting songs from albums Quality and Train of Thought — Kweli’s collaborative album with Hi-Tek as the Reflections Eternal duo.

A great moment came when Kweli executed nearly a minute of participatory crowd clapping to introduce this crowd’s favorite track “Get By.” He traded mic time with us as we called out, “…just to to stop smokin’, and stop drinkin…just to get by, just to get by.”

While there were several highlights ranging from making a stop through the Beatles’ “All the Lonely People,” to a quick slip into a reggae tribute with “Could This Be Love” and “Welcome to Jamrock,” it was the energy of the fans awaiting such a special stop in Humboldt amidst a world tour, that made the night unforgettable.

I would highly recommend this venue, or checking out a show in Arcata in general  to anyone who appreciates music and experiencing an intimate, adrenaline-driven show.

Photos by Jessica Arriola, Shadow Boxer Photography