In the mid-'90s, the Brooklyn-based trio Digable Planets jumped on the scene with their unique Native Tongues-inspired style of jazzy hip-hop, released two classic albums, won a Grammy, and then all but disappeared from the rap scene. But even though the group hasn't produced any new material in more than a decade, Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler, Mary Ann "Ladybug" Vieira and Craig "Doodlebug" Irving managed to pack the 9:30 club Wednesday night.
The Planets (who performed with J-Live and Masauko) took their positions in front of the mikes as Peaches and Herb's "Reunited" played, and then gave a 90-minute set that included their sharpest musings on galaxies, politics and New York life.
The playlist was light on the group's 1993 platinum debut, "Reachin' (a New Refutation of Time and Space)," but it satisfied die-hard followers with plenty of songs from the more adventurous 1994 follow-up, "Blowout Comb." Vieira, in particular, wowed the crowd with her mellow verses, every one of which was met with the wild screams of an audience starved for a substantive, fully clothed female MC.
The performers' hushed, almost somnolent rhyme delivery glided over the demented keys of "The May 4th Movement" and the psychedelic sample from the J.B.'s used on "9th Wonder," but things didn't really heat up until the crew's band joined the DJ onstage. Live instrumentation improved spaced-out tracks such as "Jettin' " and "Dog It," but the band was most useful on "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)." With the help of a bassist, keyboard player and drummer, the single that won the Planets their golden phonograph statuette and rocked college dorm rooms in 1993 nearly sounded new again.
-- Sarah Godfrey