Live Review: Asher Roth at House of Blues, July 26, 2009

“’I Love College’ is cool and all, but that’s not all that’s going on.”

So said Asher Roth last Sunday at the House of Blues, where The Great Hangover Tour — featuring Roth, Kid Cudi, B.O.B. and PacDiv — had rolled into town for the night.

If only his statement were true.

A Dash of Roth: Ingredients from Asher's live set were lacking (photo by author).

A Dash of Roth: Ingredients from Asher's live set were lacking (photo by author).

The fact of the matter is that Roth’s romp through the greater makings of his best-selling Asleep in the Bread Aisle clocked in at less than an hour and was littered with time-killing filler.

It’s slightly forgivable that a relative newcomer, finding himself at the helm of a multi-act tour in support of his rookie release, would have a hard time manifesting the goods to deliver what’s expected of a full-scale headliner (see: mgmt, any given tour date not in a club).  The problem for Roth, however, was not that he did his best given the context of the tour, but rather — for someone who has a lot more “going on” than one hit single — that he failed to meet his own muster.

Roth’s live act primarily relied on wacky skits and stage props, copious references and shout-outs to weed and, when all else failed to incite the crowd, reminding everyone of the Lakers’ success.  Every now and then, he and his cronies (a dj, hype man and live drummer) got around to briefly performing a song.  Rinse, repeat.  Ounce for ounce, the whole affair played off like leftovers from live hip-hop of the late 80s.

The crowd seemed to sense they had seen all this before, too, as about half the house had filed out by the end of Roth’s set.  Not even a surprise appearance by Ludacris during The Big Song seemed to matter — most of the crowd already headed for the door glanced back at the stage just to confirm that – yes, that was Ludacris up there – and then continued shuffling for the exit.  Short of an appearance by Jesus Christ, there wasn’t much that could save the show at that point.

Which is odd, because Jesus himself introduced Roth at the top of his set (actually, it was the Christ impersonator not infrequently sighted on Sunset or Hollywood), just before Roth drove onstage in a go-kart to the theme song of “Saved By The Bell” (here, you would think he would have done so to his own “Lark on My Go-Kart,” or “Blunt Cruisin,’” which followed instead).  Such popular culture mash-ups were common throughout his show (including a choreographed dance number a la Backstreet Boys and a lame mix-cd joke reference to the Spice Girls), making for an uninspiring performance which over-literally interpreted his album and resembled bad MAD TV.  What should have been raucous fun was instead mostly a lesson in inurement — not exactly what to expect from someone who took the time to profess they are much more than a one-hit wonder.

It probably didn’t help that the crowd started thinning after Kid Cudi’s stand-out set, but all told, the more “going on” message, coupled with Roth’s emphatic protests against repeated Eminem comparisons (as in “As I Em,”) point to an insecurity (possibly weed-driven) which could either fuel or break an artist. Time will tell whether Roth will find himself of the former or latter caliber, but in the meantime, his live show left too much to be desired.

Highlights, such as they were, included “La Di Da” and the aforementioned Big Song.  Missing was the U.K.-only bonus track, “Y.O.U.” — which would have hands-down improved the show instantly.

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