Live Review: Bliss N Eso, Dylan Joel

29 May 2017 | 2:11 pm | Cristiana Linthwaite Gibbins

"This evening's show is like cramming the energy of an arena size hip hop gig into a medium auditorium."

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Hip hop aficionados flock to the Eatons Hill Hotel on Friday to celebrate the first night of Bliss N Eso's Off The Grid national tour. Released late last month, Off The Grid is their sixth studio album and undeniably reaffirms the Sydney-based trio as Australian hip hop royalty.

This evening's entertainment is kicked off by 2012 triple j Unearthed's Pyramid Rock Winner, Dylan Joel. The Melbourne rapper moseys on stage with an acoustic guitar slung around his back and salutes a peace sign to his audience. Attired in a baggy shirt and hair spiking out in different directions, he almost comes across as Ed Sheeran's scruffier and definitely less ginger cousin. Nevertheless, this lack of pretence and laid-back attitude captures the attention and enthusiasm of the boisterous, bro-dominated crowd. Dylan Joel delivers a chilled out instrumental fusion of R&B, soul, acoustic, jazz and rap with key tracks from his 2015 album, Authentic Lemonade, including Crew and Swing. After splitting the audience down the middle, he has them hollering out "swag!" and "swing!" and shuffling in a well-lubricated, slightly-lopsided two-step. Special mention goes out to Joel's keyboardist/DJ who adds an indispensable vibrancy to the set through his display of musicality and technical skill in each stylistic transition.

In a flurry of white light, Bliss N Eso erupts onto the stage and greet their sold out crowd with a "BRISBANE, WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!". Throwing white towels over their shoulders, MC Bliss and MC Eso open the set with title track Off The Grid. Birds In The Sky produces a sea of middle fingers raised high in the air as the audience recites "Fuck, cause right now bitch I'm free!". The audience goes mental as DJ Izm lets fly with a frenzied turntable solo. MC Bliss and MC Eso keep themselves busy by dancing and swinging their white towels around their heads. The contagious groove of Bliss N Eso's music derives from the amalgamation of R&B, soul and reggae influenced instrumentals. The shift to the group's 2013 album Circus In The Sky with Act Your Age is met with a virile cheer from fans. The excitement of the crowd continues to build with the opening electronic loop of Tear The Roof Off. Bliss N Eso tell the crowd that they hold their supporters as close as family, and the word 'family' is chanted across the room.

The trio travel back further in their catalogue to Family Affair from ARIA platinum album Running On Air (2010). The lights flash and flicker to the scratching of DJ Izm on the turntable. The lyrics take on a defiant edge with "My Grandma told me/Never ever ever take no shit". In the bridge, the boys lead the crowd in a massive "Hey-Ho" chant with every arm raised, moving side to side like a living metronome. MC Bliss throws down with a masterful beatboxing interlude. He battles against the drummer with a volley of rhythmic and percussive tones to the point where it becomes difficult to distinguish the two musicians.

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Tonight's concert hosts the world premieres of a number of tracks from Off The Grid, including Coolin' and Soul Glo. The set also includes performances of other fan favourites from previous albums such as Party At My Place, Down By The River, Woodstock 2008, I Am Somebody, The Sea Is Rising and House Of Dreams. Bliss N Eso bring Dylan Joel back out to borrow his stripped back, guitar-prowess for Reflections. This evening's show is like cramming the energy of an arena size hip hop gig into a medium auditorium. The electronic atmosphere begs each member of the audience, even if only for a while, to let go and get a little crazy. Guys and girls are vibing along to the music with an abandon you don't see at pop or rock concerts. Cups are raised in the air with booze sloshing out over the brims, spare hands are out-stretched and pumping along to the groove.

Bliss N Eso recall their travels to the USA — the widely understood home of hip hop — prior to performing Whatever Happened To The DJ. In a tone of disbelief, they describe what they saw as a 'sad situation' where all the MCs they met had no proper DJs. DJ Izm is called to centre stage and treats the audience to another turntable solo. It is a privilege to watch DJ Izm at work and functioning as an equally important member alongside the MCs, rather than a background figure handling the mixes. DJ Izm's scratching accelerates and builds the distortion to ear-splitting levels before slowing right down and changing pace. This interlude turns into a brief old-school hip hop session with remixes of Notorious BIG, Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre.

The second half of the evening also includes renditions of Believe, Devil On My Shoulder, and singles Dopamine and Moments from Off The Grid. The main set finishes in a blaze of glory with Addicted as the audience roars the lyrics in drunken ecstasy. Bliss N Eso are ordered back for an encore by the insatiable bellows of the crowd, desperate for more. My Life and recent release Friend Like You brings the night to a conclusion with cheers thundering across the walls of the venue, imploring the group to stay and play a little longer.

The camaraderie at tonight's gig can only be described as infectious. The ear-to-ear smiles of the audience can be seen everywhere you turn. Attendees dance without inhibitions and chant each rap verse and refrain with their mates in a high-spirited, drunken singalong. It's like all the tension and frustration from the week and working at a nine-to-five job you hate just melts away. Tonight is all about fun, taking a load off, and making new friends and memories.