All three original members of the Daisy Age pioneers graced the Bullingdon's stage - they're now halfway through their Living Legends tour since reforming in 2012, a quarter-century after first working together. Their set opened with a classic hip-hop sample and some heavy scratching from Sammy B, as had their debut album (Grandmaster Flash then, Sugarhill Gang now), before Mike Gee appeared, followed by Afrika Baby Bam. That Chic quotation (via Sugarhill), proclaiming that “these are the good times", was indicative of the JBs' approach. There may be resourceful inventiveness in the sampling and doses of consciousness raising, but a party is what they intended to bring. And they came, saw, and partied.
In the Bullingdon? Really? De La Soul wouldn't fit anywhere smaller than the O2, so why are their spiritual siblings here? Perhaps they didn't catch the same breaks commercially. There's an air of the 'family that plays together' about them – they are the glue that reunited their Native Tongues collective for that NYC gig of 2012, and they look like they genuinely love what they're doing together, nearly three decades in. It's energising watching sparks fly off these internal relationships – Bam duelling with Sammy B's harshly sibilant snare, or the two MCs literally splitting words apart, playing syllabic table-tennis at high tempo.
Their determination to rock an intimate venue after a recent big show in the Bronx won this respectful crowd's enthusiasm. Props also to King Boyden for supporting for far longer than expected due to a scheduling incident, and working a sparsely-populated room early in the night. Homegrown talent The Book Thieves and Big Toast seemed honoured to share a stage with the main event.
The genuine joie de vivre of Mike Gee's flow, and Bam's laconic thoughtfulness made it interesting, but it wasn't the scattershot crate-digging fest I imagined. Sammy B kept the energy up, and the flavours were diverse. These are the JB's after all, fusing jazz, hip-hop and funk; 'Brain', their collaboration with the Roots, and 'Because I Got it Like That' showed their genre-spanning métier and brought upbeat keyboard hooks to the table, to which the frontmen couldn't help but sing along. And an eventually buoyant Oxford crowd couldn't help but get their dance on.