Photography by Anna Madden
It’s been over 20 years but these guys are just as dynamic as ever.
Following a year full of festival shows and dates out in the New Zealand show, Adelaide’s Hilltop Hoods began their Australian tour with a weekend of shows at Rod Laver Arena. Showing up to show out, Friday night’s show rolled on despite the hectic weather that drenched Melbourne in rain and icy winds.
Golden Era Records’ latest signing, Shadow was first up to the plate and for the Perth MC to step out and flex in front of a fast-building arena crowd, he held his own. What was good about watching Shadow perform was the fact that yes, he definitely has bars, but his vocal tone was equally as impressive. The flow was tight and promising – 2020 is going to be a fruitful year for this artist out of the west coast.
Adrian Eagle, fellow Adelaidean and recently welcomed member to the Hilltop Hoods’ extended family, also expressed his growing confidence as a performer during the second support slot of the evening. His R&B notes velvety, the boom of his voice undeniably captivating, the singer matched powerful delivery with powerful messages of optimism. He would re-emerge during the Hoods’ headline set for ‘Clark Griswold’ but as far as making his own mark, Adrian Eagle is a formidable talent with a legacy all his own in the making.
With club tracks spun by DJ Nino Brown during each interlude establishing a vibe to be built upon, Hilltop Hoods had an arena full of fans considerably warmed up by the time the smoke machines and visuals lit up Rod Laver Arena.
Watching the trio in this environment serves as a reminder of their important place not just in Australian hip hop, but in Australian music in general. Their show was a well-oiled machine; the setlist taking the audience through a mammoth chunk of a career that has round out its second decade in 2019.
The release of their latest album, The Great Expanse, still fresh in memory, the new Hilltop Hoods material slotted in easily alongside older cuts. The aforementioned Adrian Eagle collaboration ‘Clark Griswold’ was bolstered by emphatic performances of ‘Leave Me Lonely’, ‘Exit Sign’ and ‘Be Yourself’, the latter two seeing Illy, Ecca Vandal and Nyassa join the Hoods on stage. The night was for sharing the love and while the Hoods’ penchant for welcoming guest artists to share their stage may not be the most unpredictable of moves these days, the moments where the crowd got to see these dynamics play out live were easily some of the most popular of the night.
The crowd, diverse in age, hung on each rhyme from Suffa and Pressure, while moments of pyro and confetti surprises rammed the arena quality production home even further. The presence of their horn section, along with the dominance of Plutonic Lab on live percussion proved to be more natural than ever alongside DJ Debris’ turntable work. This is a group who know their formula and know it well. Though the sound in the room was too loud in some areas, the horns were defined, and the balance evened out as the headline set hit its stride.
When it came to the MCs of the hour (and a half), Suffa and Pressure bounced off each other with ease. Treating the show like an extreme beep test, the twosome read the room expertly, giving one another time to breathe, while amping themselves, buoying each other on.
It’s stating the obvious to point out that the Hoods have come along way since their early days releasing music out of Adelaide Hills, yet it’s an accomplishment to see a hip hop group meet ambition with results, as they took on the first date of an impressively sold nationwide arena tour with gusto. The winds are changing when it comes to what a hip hop audience in Australia likes and looks like but when it comes to the impact a group like the Hilltop Hoods have had on an ever-changing genre, theirs is a footprint that will always be longlasting.
Highlight: The appearance of Briggs during the set-closer of ‘Cosby Sweater’ was a strong moment in an already strong set. The Bad Apples head honcho, a long-time member of the Golden Era crew, was on stage for mere minutes but the energy lifted even more during the small period of time.
Lowlight: An imbalance of sound levels meant that Nyassa’s vocals were sometimes lost in the mix. She has a great voice but could not clearly be heard on renditions of songs like ‘I Love It’, that really needed a Sia-level vocal boom.
Crowd favourite: Can’t go past the ‘Nosebleed Section’ or ‘Chase That Feeling’ for a reminder of how much fun these guys brought to many of our teenage years.