He staked a permanent place for Oakland on the international rap map over a more than 25-year career, but Too $hort (born Todd Shaw) made his live debut in San Francisco's Fillmore District just this past weekend, via four performances at Yoshi's with a live band.
Sunday's final set kicked off with a cover of Sexual Harassment's electro-tinged 1983 come-on "I Need a Freak," which was given a rock-ish charge with live bass and two guitars (one of them played by S.F.'s own Martin Luther).
Next came an apt warning to the ladies from $hort: "If you come to a Too $hort show," he cautioned, "you will get called a bitch."
He explained that he usually makes the audience wait for the classics, but for this show he decided to lead with them, perhaps owing to his observation that the audience was an older one. It was a smart choice, as big voices in the crowd knew the key words and punchlines to early hits like "Freaky Tales," "Gettin' It," "Life Is . . ." and "The Ghetto." During the latter, he proclaimed his love for the hood and its many bargains.
"Anyone got the iPad 2? I want that now, and I'm not gonna pay $500 for it," $hort said. "I got the new iPad in the hood for like $250, with the service plan and everything. Anyone got some Harley Davidson parts?"
Anchored by Luther and Silk-E, a beautifully brash singer-rapper from Richmond, $hort's band had no trouble changing direction on a dime, whether to channel a moment of P-Funk or to delve into some nastified R&B slow jamming. They added new words and flair to some of his more memorable remix appearances in recent years, including Kelis' "Bossy," Devin The Dude's "Finer Things," and E-40's "Bitch."Richie Rich, the old-school MC fond of saying he's "the only Bay Area rapper still living criminal," made a surprise appearance on stage to rap with $hort on "Dope Fiend" and to offer his memorable verse on "I Got Five On It" by the Luniz ("At every event I'm sacked up, so if you need me, scream double R when you see me") and his local radio hit "What I Ain't Gon Do."
"We used to sell coke together," $hort told the crowd. "Coca-Cola at the Oakland A's games. I was 15 and he was 13. We'd shout, 'Coke! Coke! Coke!'"
The last songs of the night (the Lil Jon-produced "Blow The Whistle" and "Burn Rubber") were dedicated to the "young bitches" in the crowd. "This is your moment!" he proclaimed. "I want to see some asses wiggling!"
$hort showed he wasn't too big to make fun of himself, as he told a story about how some elementary school kids told him that, while he wrote his 2006 hyphy hit "Blow The Whistle" as a sports metaphor, nowadays the phrase actually refers to boys receiving oral pleasure.
"I told them I knew that all along," he joked, but admitted he was clearly being schooled by the youngsters.
Critic's NotebookPersonal bias: Mr. Shaw is a frequent and favorite interview subject; recent encounters include discussing the local legacy of the Black Panthers and following him to his favorite restaurant in Oakland for this amazing video.
Random detail: The highlight of the merch table was Silk-E's "You Hella Fake" T-shirt.
By the way: Too $hort's next studio album is being recorded with the assistance of his live band, and is due out before the end of the year.
Conclusion: Comedic, nasty, and musically flawless, the two-plus hour set was over way too soon.