In the wake of the horrific Ghost Ship fire last Friday, Dec. 2, a tragedy that has ravaged the local music and arts community, it felt almost callous to return to “business as normal.”
On Tuesday, that business was seeing Oakland/Los Angeles hip-hop collective Living Legends hit the Regency Ballroom for the San Francisco stop of their annual “How the Grouch Stole Christmas” tour. Reuniting the entirety of the Living Legends crew for the first time since 2012, the evening was to be a celebration, even if many in the crowd were likely feeling anything but exultant.
Frustratingly, the members of Living Legends opted not to acknowledge the Oakland fire until late into their set — dedicating “Never Falling Down” to its victims and survivors — but it feels unfair to fault a group known for its upbeat vibe for relying on what they do best. You simply can’t go to a show called “How the Grouch Stole Christmas” and be mad at Sunspot Jonz for coming out in an unbuttoned Santa costume. The Legends were there to revel, and despite our sorrows, the audience was compelled to abide.
Living Legends are an embarrassment of riches, featuring the talents of Eligh, Sunspot Jonz, Murs, Scarub, and The Grouch, among others. The group boasts a total of eight emcees, who on Tuesday night were joined by Oakland’s DJ Fresh (not to be confused with the British producer of the same name). Trading off verses and living for the energy, each member dug deep into the crew’s four official studio albums, various compilation records, and assorted solo and off-shoot projects.
Hearing classics like the Jefferson Airplane “White Rabbit”-inspired track “Rabbit Hole” and the late-night chiller “After Hours” reinforced what has kept Living Legends in the game for so long. These guys simply flow together, creating something collectively larger than their individual voices. However, several of the evening’s most memorable moments came courtesy of tracks that aren’t actually part of Living Legends’ canon.
Sporting a backwards red cap, the Grouch tore through “Simple Man” off his 2000 solo record Making Perfect Sense. Murs, undoubtedly the most singularly successful member of the Legends, held court with enthusiasm while delivering his verse off the Grouch’s “Bay to L.A.” from 2008’s Show You the World.
Twenty years is a long time, but the members of Living Legends have used it well. Since Mystik Journeymen (Sunspot Jonz and Luckyiam) joined up with the Grouch and Melancholy Gypsys (Eligh, Scarub, and Murs) in 1996 to form one of the California’s most lasting hip-hop groups, the music has never stopped. Even after Murs — and later the Grouch — opted out of the crew, their legacy has remained, taking its rightful place alongside other local influential outfits like Hieroglyphics, Zion-I, and The Coup.
On Tuesday night, Living Legends made their claim on the Bay Area’s hip-hop throne. Hyper, gleeful, and feeding off the hometown crowd, their show was a much-needed, if fleeting, reminder of why we so desperately need to empower and support the next wave of local artists.
With the Ghost Ship fire, we lost not only beloved family and friends, but also pivotal members of the music and arts community, vibrant voices silenced at a time when we needed them louder than ever. It is at these difficult moments that we must look backwards to what outfits like Living Legends have accomplished and ask them to embrace their roles as ambassadors and beacons of strength.
While the joyous nature of Living Legends’ show may have been a mirage, a temporary reprieve from an unending onslaught of bad news and stark realities, it also served as a reminder that normal is merely whatever you choose to make it. It can be bleak, but, try as the world might, there is always a little beauty to be found.
That’s what makes the Bay Area, in spite of all of the think pieces to the contrary, such a crucial place in the landscape of independent music. We’re where things like Living Legends are created. Now let’s make sure we keep it that way.