Sunday, March 3, 1996

Cypress Hill; 311; Pharcyde (Variety)

The 3 1/2-hour show -- which could have been confused for a hemp fest, with all the pot references -- was headlined by Cypress Hill, the South-Central outfit whose distinctive gangsta hybrid has spawned uncounted imitators.
This hip-hop triple bill at the sold-out Universal Amphitheatre featured three talented L.A.-based groups with a few things in common -- most notably their shared love for marijuana -- and some glaring differences, the most obvious being 311's full-band setup, an advantage that the funk-rock-rap crew used to conclusively steal the thunder from the evening's other two acts. The band's third Ruff House/Columbia album, last year's "Temples of Boom," does little, unfortunately, beyond their well-documented, one-dimensional approach, a shortcoming that this 75-minute set couldn't overcome.

Frontman B-Real's vocal style -- comparable to a busted and muffled air-raid siren -- is nearly bereft of dynamic flow, but does score on the in-your-face meter.

Cypress Hill provided a non-stop barrage of monotonous songs about pot and the people who smoke it (everyone they know, it seems), and "rollin' wit' my homies," leaving the lone interesting musical aspect to wild outbursts from percussionist Bobo.

Of course, following 311 didn't help. That quintet -- two rapper/singers and a guitar-bass-drums backup -- have their dexterous approach down to a science. Capable singing and legit rapping skills lift frontmen Nicholas Hexum and S.A. above most hip-hoppers. An endless, seamless stream of styles -- jazz, metal, old school hip-hop -- held interest level high throughout the band's 45-minute set.

With three albums under their belt, 311 looks primed to make a move to the headlining level. A Lollapalooza main-stage ticket should be cut for this bunch.

Openers the Pharcyde caught their fans off guard with their sophomore album, "Labcabincalifornia" (Delicious Vinyl/Capitol), which focused on smooth vocals and a more romantic delivery, much to the chagrin of many. At Universal the predictable: older tracks were greeted with enthusiasm and dancing; the newer ones with skepticism and apathy. Back to the drawing board.