URSULA RUCKER with DWELE at Harbourfront Centre, July 29. Tickets: free. Attendance: 1,600. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Gwen Stefani claims to have been "around that track" a few times. She should talk to Ursula Rucker .
"I ain't your holla black girl," spat the Philadelphia coffeehouse breakout during a dramatic pause early Friday night at Harbourfront Centre , the altered line from Stefani's Hollaback Girl hitting like a ton of cement blocks. This was just one of the simple but tangibly subversive pop-culture riffs Rucker busted out during a performance that filled the head like food.
Of course, a few members of the audience - which packed the outdoor venue by night's end - must've already been stuffed. The cowboy-hatted Rucker's blunt, uncensored honesty on all things sexual and political was too much for the ears of some more conservative-looking cats in the crowd, who whispered "excuse me" as they hurriedly sidestepped their way past the aisle seats.
But as the chorus of Rucker's incendiary What A Woman Must Do - "Concubine. Cunt. Bitch. Whore. Stunt. Witch. Dyke." - sailed across the water, the vacating guests somehow strengthened her dissidence.
When not lyrically arm-wrestling the status quo, Rucker showcased her acute wordplay, half-singing, half-rapping flows in a voice that's got some Jill Scott hidden in it. References to Wu-Tang and Jay-Z wove through one-liners uglier than Remy Shand after an all-night bender, and poured over instrumentation provided by a DAT player, drummer Tony Capaccio and guitarist Tim Motzer , whose experimental dabbling made his axe sound like a sax.
After about 50 minutes, Rucker's show nodded off to mesmerizing and quietly menacing agogos that tinkled starkly behind her steady monotone.
The whole stage sprang back to life a half-hour later with the emergence of Detroit's Dwele , who sported a fresh-off-the-runway look in a gold suit and shades. The crowd had nearly doubled by then, girls screaming from all points.
Flanked by a six-piece orchestra including a trombonist and a trumpeter (which constitutes a horn section, in my opinion), Dwele wowed. And by that I mean "Wow, he's improved so, so much as a performer since he opened at the Phoenix for Slum Village two summers ago."