What happens when Coolio plays a gig at a suburban Brisbane pub?
‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ was my first ever favourite song. Sure, I’d grown up surrounded by music and became a fan of Billy Joel, The Beatles and musical theatre through musical osmosis.
But, at nine years old, I was ready to tread my own path into the world of pop music. And it turns out that path was to begin with Coolio.
‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ was catchy, a little bit eerie, and unlike anything a white kid from regional Queensland had ever heard. It might be a little over the top to say that it sparked a lifelong love of hip hop, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
If you were around in 1995, you’ll remember how big this song was. Not only was it the highest selling single of the year, but it landed in third spot on the Hottest 100 for that year as well. It was everywhere.
Honestly, I probably liked ‘1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin' New)’, a follow up single released early in 1996, even more. Maybe that was because it was on Hit Machine 13, one of four CDs I owned, and I could read the lyrics as I listened. Or maybe just because it was a straight-up banger.
Again, it’s probably a long bow to draw, but I’m sure its heavy sample of Chic’s ‘Good Times’ planted the seed for my now obsessive love of Nile Rodgers.
Coolio has toured Australia a lot in the past few years, but I’ve never expressed much interest in seeing him. I’ve always felt like there’s something sad about aging pop artists trying to reclaim former glories.
Plus, there’s something kind of annoying about these package tours that gives each of these artists ten or so minutes to play their hits and shout the name of the country they’re in ad nauseum.
It’s like they’ve become glorified hype-people, living for the chance to play the same four minutes of music over and over and over.
But earlier this month, I found out that Coolio was playing a headline show at the Chardons Corner Hotel, a dingy, rough looking pub in the Brisbane suburb of Annerley.
It was too weird a prospect to ignore. I had to go.
Here are a few points about the show that I think are vital to know before I get to what actually went down:
- Tickets were $30 each, astoundingly cheap for an international artist of any stature.
- Coolio was billed to play a 30-minute set, and ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ was practically promised as part of the show.
- Also promised was a live band, including a sax player (!).
- Not only was Coolio playing this suburban pub, he was also driving up the Sunshine Coast to play a pub in Mooloolaba later that night.
- I most definitely got cold feet on the afternoon of the show and came very close to not attending.
But I stayed strong. Even if I was about to witness a train wreck – which I’d considered a very real possibility – I wasn’t too much out of pocket. Besides, I owed it to my nine-year-old self to at least give Coolio a chance.
When we arrived, barflies and thirsty tradies packed out the front bar of the pub, where a rock band were preparing to crank up after Friday Night Football finished.
In the Back Room, DJ Nivi was dropping a predictable but perfectly suited set of 90s hip hop classics and filming the crowd on her phone, as 100-odd punters danced and swigged from pre-mix rum and bourbon stubbies.
Coolio was due on stage at 9.30pm. This is hip hop, and things rarely run on time. But, by 9.40pm, Coolio was on stage, smashing through ‘It Takes A Thief’ from his debut album of the same name. And he was going in hard. His rough voice cut through brilliantly and he didn’t miss a line as he strutted across the stage with colossal energy.
His collaboration with Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Method Man and B-Real, ‘Hit ‘Em High’, from the very-90s Space Jam soundtrack was a surprise early inclusion.
A bizarre, largely off-colour skit led into later-era track ‘If I Was Your Boyfriend’, which we all could have done without.
For a man with number one singles, platinum records and a cemented spot in the annals of popular culture, this was no great rock star moment.
But Coolio then got everyone back onside with ‘C U When You Get There’, a minor 90s hit that he dedicated to pretty much every great artist who has passed away in the past 20 years, as well as Muhammed Ali.
While most of the musical heavy lifting came via a backing track, the contributions of guitarist A.J. Luke and saxophonist Jarel Posey were vital to the energy of the show.
Both are astounding good musicians and amazing vocalists. Coolio’s vibe and flow brought plenty of soul to the show, but his right-hand men lifted that to a new level.
‘1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin' New)’ caused a minor stir, it ended abruptly after the second verse after which Coolio hysterically ran off the stage. A siren sounded, and we all knew what was coming.
The big choral intro that ushers in ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ sent the modest audience into an absolute frenzy. Everyone held their phones aloft to capture the song on camera, while screaming along to every word.
It was surreal to see this song performed live for the first time, 23 years after it was such a sensation.
It was heartening to see Coolio perform it with passion, despite no doubt having grown tired of the song two decades ago.
It was as perfect a pinnacle of the show as we could have hoped, a reminder of the song’s brilliance (it really does stand up) and the artist’s continued skill on the mic.
Coolio ended the show standing at the front of the stage, arms outstretched, and launched himself into the audience. He shakes hands and hugs his fans. They showed faith that he would deliver and he didn’t let us down.
For a man with number one singles, platinum records and a cemented spot in the annals of popular culture, this was no great rock star moment. This was what it was, a rapper playing to 100 drunk people on a Friday night in the suburbs of Brisbane. There was no glamour, no ostentation, and, frankly, probably not a whole lot of money involved.
Coolio gave us his all on Friday night, and it was glorious.