El Rey Theatre

October 11, 2011

See more photos in Timothy Norris' slideshow, “Yelawolf @ The El Rey Theatre”

Almost a year ago, Yelawolf opened for Wiz Khalifa at the Music Box to little interest, his modest van parked next to the headliner's tour bus in the lot. Last night at the El Rey Theatre, though, Yelawolf was in his element.

Having signed with Eminem's Shady Records early this year, the Alabama rapper played before a not-entirely sold out last night, but his fans — as distinct a group as Wiz's Taylor Gang — were enthusiastic and on his Jack Daniels-fueled level.

The stage glowed with red and white spotlights (blue came later; he's got a thing for Americana), and Yela strode out in a ski mask. It came off pretty quickly as he slid through “Daddy's Lambo”; it was hot enough that he repeatedly doused himself with bottles of water. He grinned, ran a hand through his floppy skater hair and raised his shirt to reveal his tatted-up torso. That's when it dawned on me that he's become a sort of sex symbol. I've never considered Yela to be particularly charismatic, but he really doesn't have to rely on his looks or charm, because boy can flow.

He still raps as fast as a machine gun, his breath control is impressive, and he's backed by bass-heavy beats that sound sinister. But the chip on his shoulder — see the line “I wish a motherfucker would tell me that I ain't hip hop” from his breakthrough mixtape Trunk Muzik — seems to be gone.

As a mid-set medley of other people's songs demonstrated, Yela was influenced as much by Metallica and The Doors as Eazy-E and Outkast, and his fans flicked their smuggled-in Bics to Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Simple Man.” He bangs his head as often as he bounces or struts, and his “Heart of Dixie” tattoo announces his allegiance.

Also, he's professional. His mic cut out right as he began the ridiculously fun Lil Jon-produced “Hard White.” But he didn't miss a beat, just walked over while still rapping and accepted another microphone.

Yelawolf's style — hard and fast, fast and hard — can get a little repetitive when it bombards you for an hour. So it was nice, if elaborate, when he switched things up for his one-song encore with Rittz — who holds his own. A giant American flag unfurled, and out came guys dressed as a skeleton, a sasquatch, and Dick Cheney. Yela appeared in a gas station attendee jumpsuit and bird mask. Weird, but that's what the South, and a few shots of Jack, will do to you.

The crowd: Dressed-down, tatted-up crowd wearing a lot of black. And muscle shirts with messages like, “Pull the Trigger Bitch.”

Overheard: A V-Nasty look-a-like to her friend wearing cut-off jean shorts and furry boots: “You are FSU — Fuck Shit Up!”

Random notebook dump: Mosh pits are very homoerotic.

Set list below.

Set list

Daddy's Lambo

Trunk Muzik

No Hands

Hard White

(His BET cypher?)

I Wish

You Ain't No DJ

Let's Go

In This Club

(Medley of influences)

Pop the Trunk


Billy Crystal


Box Chevy

Love is Not Enough

I Just Wanna Party


Good to Go

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