Category Archives: Mega 97.9 Summer Jam

Mega 97.9 Summer Jam @ Selland Arena, Fresno CA 06/17/16

This show was fun for a mess of reasons. The nostalgia, the beats, the booty shaking, etc. etc. This was an old school hip-hop/electro package. It was an evening filled with Roland 808 drum beats, new wave synths and classic grooves. We’re not exactly hip-hop fans, but there are some songs that for one reason or another became a part of our youth and make-up, just as any other important memory or experience would. As for this tour, every once in a while these 80s/90s packages roll through the country, usually billed as “old-school parties” or “Old School Jams.” Some packages lean heavy towards freestyle artists while others focus on classic hip-hop acts. This particular bill featured 90s hip-hop hit makers Sir Mix-A-Lot, Coolio, Tone Loc, and headliner Vanilla Ice, with classic acts Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmasters Furious Five, Rob Base, JJ Fad and Newcleus in support. Each group was allotted 20 minutes each or so. Newcleus opened the show for the early birds. 7:30 had rolled around and the crowd was incredibly sparse. The audience continued to fill in by the time Newcleus closed their set with the infectious “Jam On It.” Try NOT to sing that opening bass line. JJ Fad, the all-girl rap combo from Rialto, was the second act to go onstage. JJ Fad were connected to NWA and their manager Jerry Heller. They’re considered THE first successful female rap group. Eazy E’s label, Ruthless Records, owes its financial beginnings and first success to JJ Fad and their first single, “Supersonic.” Supporting JJ Fad on the turn tables was none other than Arabian Prince, one of the founding members of NWA. Arabian Prince was introduced to the audience and it was at that moment that he began spinning Eazy-E’s “Boyz N’ Tha Hood.” The place went nuts. The group did a verse and a chorus before going into “Supersonic.”

Grandmasters Furious Five and Sugar Hill Gang were the next two acts on the bill. Man oh man did they transport us back to the 80’s with tracks like “The Message,” “Apache” and “Rappers Delight.” It was also at this point where the volume went through the roof. I’d never gotten a headache at a gig before, well besides a Heaven & Hell show, but it got pretty damn loud. It was still awesome to hear these songs performed on stage like that. Tone Loc was next up and we witnessed full versions of “Funky Cold Medina,” “Get Low” and “Wild Thang.” And damn if they sounded just like the studio originals. Loc’s baritone sounded spot on. Crowd response was good and we were having a great time hearing this stuff live. The man was sweating like it was 100 degrees in the venue, the lights and valley heat were getting to him, and the heat wave hadn’t even hit yet. Loc’s set went over well. Rob Base soon followed. Out of all of this night’s performers, Rob Base has the sole distinction of being the only true crooner. Rob is one half of the classic duo that was Rob Base and DJ EZ-Rock. Sadly, EZ-Rock passed away years ago of a diabetic seizure. He was only in his forties. His set was brief and featured a medley of old school covers plus “Joy & Pain” and ending with “It Takes Two.” The man has a very good singing voice and the festive mood continued. Then came Coolio. Oh shit, Coolio’s set bordered on catastrophe. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Props to Coolio for being the only act with an actual backing band. However his guitarist/vocalist had a tough time initially but finally got his shit together by midset. His guitar player’s vocals were off key and lacked power, especially during the opening medley, “All the Way Live” and “Fantastic Voyage”. Those backing vocals made us cringe and his harmonies just weren’t coming together. Things got worse for Coolio during “C U When You Get There.” What should have been a soulful ballad turned into a unintelligible, distorted, bass-heavy mess. We couldnt understand any of Coolio’s lines, it was just a shitty mess of low end and the crowd wasn’t responding. Coolio may as well have been performing to an empty room, and his frustration was visibly increasing. Erica was worried that he was going to pull out his piece and start capping chubby hoochies, simply because there were so many of them, easy targets. It wasn’t until the sax solo leading into “1,2,3,4 Sumpin New” that the group was able to pull the audience back in. That’s when everything jelled and all the players including Coolio recomposed themselves and brought their A game. I’m convinced the sax player saved their set. It woke everyone up and hypnotized the crowd, and then the momentum picked up and the group finally received a spirited audience response. The backing vocalist pulled off the choruses to “Gangster’s Paradise” with power and soul. Glad that Coolio and his backing band were able to get it together.

In comparison, Sir Mix-a-lot brought it. He had to be the most appreciative of the Fresno crowd and was best able to identify with the audience. He recounted his first gig in Fresno at the old Wilson Theater (it closed and reopened as a church). Wrongly dismissed as a one hit wonder, Sir Mix-a-lot opened with the track that first brought him to the Central Valley, “Posse On Broadway,” and looked back on that show, how he set up in the alley behind the building and was paid $350 for the gig. He performed complete versions of “Posse On Broadway” and “Put It On the Glass,” telling the audience that he knows we didn’t come to here medleys and cover songs. And then the moment came when all the ladies lost their shit. “Baby Got Back” was next and it got LOUD and the bodies really started moving. Sir Mix-a-lot had one of the best responses of the night. Final act to go on was headliner Vanilla Ice. Ice’s set was the most abrasive and ventured into rap-rock territory. His vocal delivery was aggressive, with a style and attitude similar to Kid Rock and Insane Clown Posse. Ice was the only act to incorporate a true stage production with his own props and light rig. Ice also had his own scary clowns on stage doing dance routines and tossing water on the audience. The first few numbers were hoppin but it reminded me more of a rock show versus an “old-school” hip-hop show. Vanilla kicked off his set with “Dirty South,” “Turn It Up” and”Hit ‘Em Hard.” A brief drum solo was performed by Ninja Keith. Some blasts from the past were next. Portions of “Play That Funky Music” and the “Ninja Rap” were next, and finally came the Queen sampled bass line. The audience went ape-shit and Ice was all smiles, seeing the crowd react like they did. The group went through a version of “Ice Ice Baby” fairly close to the original and Ice spit his lines like what’s found on record. The set wrapped up and we got the heck out of Fresno pretty quickly. There were 9 acts total on the bill and we had very good seats for $45 each. We had to do one of these shows at least once, glad we caught it and had fun like we did. The people watching was an added bonus 🙂