Sweaty, breathless and clearly buoyed by news that his just-released record was on track to hit No. 1 in its first week, veteran Queens rapper Nas delivered an ebullient free performance at the Roxy on Friday, drawing a fire hazard- sized crowd. Touching on every one of his nine albums, Nas was perhaps overly conscientious of presenting an all-encompassing set, yet the sheer energy he displayed bodes well for his imminent tour (which includes a stint at Rock the Bells in New York on Aug. 3 and San Bernardino Aug. 9).
Though only onstage for 75 minutes with no encore, Nas nonetheless exhibited impressive stamina, hardly pausing throughout. At times he even launched into songs before his five-piece band (competent yet mostly unnecessary with DJ Green Lantern doing all the heavy lifting) had time to regroup from the previous number.
Songs from the controversial, conspicuously titled “Untitled” made up a surprisingly small portion of the set. After opening the show with lyrically audacious, musically unremarkable numbers “N.I.G.G.E.R. (Slave and Master)” and “Breathe,” Nas quickly switched to a more celebratory mood.
The legacy of debut “Illmatic” has always been the rapper’s albatross, and he blitzed through truncated readings of five of the album’s tracks early in the show. The now 34-year-old Nas is likely tired of revisiting songs he wrote as a teenager, but when those songs comprise one of the best albums of the last quarter century, it’s disappointing to see them so indifferently dispatched.
Beyond that, Nas had a good sense for his own discography, allotting hits “Made You Look” and “If I Ruled the World” ample time to coalesce, while limiting career lows “Nastradamus” and the truly awful “Oochie Wally” to mere snippets. An absolutely stellar rendition of 2001’s “One Mic” was a particular testament to the rapper’s gifts, showcasing an emotional range and dynamic control far beyond the reach of even his most celebrated contemporaries.
Friday’s show was presented by MySpace, presenting a problem for the rapper, whose week-old single “Sly Fox” takes direct aim at Rupert Murdoch’s various other holdings. To his credit, Nas acknowledged his dilemma from the stage, subsequently leading the crowd in a chant of choice unprintables directed at Fox News personalities.