Let’s get this out of the way first. Although the misleadingly titled Tupac: Live at the House of Blues is in fact the last recorded live performance by Tupac Shakur, taking place two months prior to his untimely death, it isn’t exactly his live show. Filmed in mid-1996 during Death Row Records’ heyday of success and hedonism, Tupac was only the opening act to this show, which was actually headlined by Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound.
Thus, if you’re looking for a concert film which fully captures Tupac’s live talents, you’ll be fairly disappointed with this release. If, however, you’re a diehard fan of the Death Row Records brand of gangsta rap, then there are a few highlights on this disc that might make it worth your time.
The stage setup for the concert is bare, with poor lighting, limited camera angles, and an atmosphere lacking personality. It doesn’t help that the main performer is lost on stage amongst a sea of entourage. Nonetheless, Tupac opens the set excitingly with guns blazing on “Ambitions as a Ridah”, where his versatile raps sound as good as they do on record. Tattooed, muscled, and full of vigor, Tupac runs through a series of hits, unreleased tracks, and collaborations.
The performances range from stellar crowd-pleasers (“All About You”) to welcomed debuts (“Never Call U Bitch Again”). Unfortunately, not all of the songs are played in full, and the constant nuisance of the Outlawz hinders the set a bit. Other key tracks include “Troublesome”, which later made an appearance on his Greatest Hits album, and “How Do You Want It”, where K-Ci and JoJo join up for the chart-topping jam.
From early on you get a sense that this is more of a Death Row Records house party than a typical concert. Tupac engages with the audience by going off on his rivals, insulting Mobb Deep, Nas, and everyone at Bad Boy Records. This was during the peak of the East Coast/West Coast hip hop feud, and so Tupac is more vengeful rebel than introspective poet, and it’s a bit unsettling seeing him in combat mode only months prior to his death. After his brief eight song set (excluding the a cappella K-Ci and JoJo number), Tupac leaves the stage and soon after is followed by headliners Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound. Tha Dogg Pound had just had a successful year with their controversial number one album Dogg Food, and Snoop Dogg was preparing the release of his eagerly-awaited sophomore album, The Doggfather.
Snoop Dogg’s performances work best when he’s playing the better material off of his debut album, Doggystyle. He delivers “Murder Was the Case” with intense conviction, and his creeping flow is spit with great enthusiasm in concert. After a good start, the set tanks as the middle focuses on material by Tha Dogg Pound, which simply isn’t as good in comparison. Tracks like “If We All Gonna Fuck”, “Some Bomb Azz (Pussy)”, and “Big Pimpin’” are stale, mediocre, and redundant G-funk throwaways.
Let me put it this way, to liven up the mood the crew brings out a bunch of scantily-clad dancers and at one point declare that one girl’s genitalia is talking. Thankfully, after this weak chunk, Snoop gets back to playing his classics for a rousing finalé which has the crowd going wild for hit single “Who Am I (What’s My Name)”.
After Snoop introduces then-upcoming track “Doggfather” to a decent response, “Gin and Juice” closes things out nicely for a hit and miss set that would have benefited in being shorter and less guest-heavy. Things are not over yet, as Tupac and the rest of the Death Row roster come out for an ensemble performance of “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted”. It’s nice to see two of the most dynamic rappers from the scene, Tupac and Snoop Dogg, teaming up on stage for the best performance of the night. As the concert ends and Death Row co-founder Suge Knight takes publicity photos with Snoop and Tupac on stage, you can’t help but reflect on how much their lives were going change in the following months.
Eagle Rock do what they can with what they have, but Tupac: Live at the House of Blues is sorely lacking as both a film and a disc. The high-def transfer is okay, but the footage’s dim lighting shows its age and it’s hard to appreciate the upgrade, while the sound fares only slightly better. Former Vibe writer Kevin Powell’s liner notes are intimate and explain the power of Tupac’s music and words, but seem ill-suited considering the disappointing content of the concert. Also included are five standard-edition music videos, most of which are edited for language, poorly shot, and forgettable to everyone but the most devoted.
Tupac’s first time on Blu-ray isn’t the welcome you’d expect, as it is hardly a Tupac release at all. Posthumous releases from Tupac have tended to be misleading, poorly managed cash-ins on his name, and you might say Tupac: Live at the House of Blues fits that bill, too. His brief performance itself is worth seeing, as are several songs from Snoop Dogg’s set, but on the whole this concert film does not do justice to anyone except maybe Suge Knight.