Live Review: Riff Raff @ Mercury Ballroom, Louisville KY (2/5)

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There is a reason that people like spectacles, and can settle for the sensation over substance. A Riff Raff performance is a perfect example of that notion.

Seeing the Texas rapper live is a lot like watching wrestling. It’s all for show, and nobody really watches for the fights. It’s all about the talking in-between, and the various things that transform an event into a full fledged  parade.  Riff Raff’s show has similar elements, giving the audience the eye candy and entertainment to enjoy along with song performances.

The wrestling comparison doesn’t feel unnatural, as Riff Raff has gotten ripped recently. Sporting a tank with a wrestling caricature of himself (the Neon Python), Riff ran out on stage to the sounds of Neon Icon opener “Introducing the Icon” to begin the show. It was 10:30 p.m. at this point, so after growing restless the crowd was ecstatic.

Although “Introducing the Icon” is my favorite song on Neon Icon, it just didn’t have the same adrenaline live. This comes back to my wrestling theory. While the crowd and I were hyped for the song, it never felt like it was due to the performance. Riff Raff performs with a standard rap stage set-up, featuring a DJ playing his records (with lyrics included) surrounded by hype men. While some rappers manage to make their spectacle with their performance, the same can’t be said solely about Riff Raff’s rapping.

What does make a Riff Raff show worth your time is everything else. The neon theme was in full force with black lights dominating an eclectic light show, with all members on-stage wearing glow in the dark merch and shoes. There were girls on each side of the stage dancing in fluorescent orange dresses and waving giant signs featuring Jody Husky the Dog, Hulk Hogan and Riff Raff himself. University of Louisville’s cardinal mascot joined the rapper on stage. The rapper even took the time to brush his hair during his ridiculous banter with the crowd, and even during actual songs. As the show goes on, you do get the sense that this a big production and that alone is what they’re selling.

Ask yourself a question: are you a fan of Riff Raff because you’re impressed by his rhymes or because he makes you laugh in YouTube interviews? If it’s because of the latter, then you’re in the majority. Building a Riff Raff show into this kind of spectacle is the way to reward fans with those elements of his personality in a concert setting.

However, the music did provide occasional highlights through the night as well. “How To Be The Man” took an unexpected turn after the first chorus into an unfamiliar but welcome instrumental that kept it interesting. “Aquaberry Dolphin” felt like the right mesh of a good and funny song for a live setting. People jumped around and laughed at the same time. “Dolce and Gabbana” was perhaps the most exciting song of the night for a pulsating crowd (“Rap Game Bo Jackson!”)

The performance also smartly took breaks from Riff Raff material for intermissions of crowd pleasing songs such as ILOVEMAKONNEN’s “Tuesday” and A$AP Rocky’s latest single “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2”. These moments livened the crowd through original Riff Raff material they were less familiar with.

You’re left at the night with a decision to make: is it worth it to see Riff Raff? The answer to that question rests within your personal reasonings for being a fan in the first place. If you like all the craziness that comes along with Riff Raff territory, and aren’t worried about taking the music too seriously, this may be for you. This show was full of ridiculous moments from beginning to end. Opener Chanel West Coast, from Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory, had a night stealing line: “I’m the shit like a pooper scooper.” Whether that’s hilarious or an abomination to you should be an indication of if a Riff Raff show is up your alley.

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