Review: Snoop Dogg's Cali to Canada tour touches down in Calgary, offering an entertaining tribute to West Coast rap

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There was a strange transition after Snoop Dogg left the stage half-way through his set Friday night at the Saddledome to allow hip-hop duo The Dogg Pound to take over.

Right before he exited stage left, the crowd had been treated to an appropriately giddy run through House of Pain’s Jump Around that came complete with massive Canadian flags blazing on the jumbo-screens to match Snoop’s equally patriotic attire.

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The lights went down and the audience was treated to a surprisingly violent, although with flashes of dark humour, cinematic intro to the veteran West Coast duo made up of rappers Kurupt and Daz Dillinger. They would offer a touch of menace to the proceedings with a powerful half-hour set of their hits.

It was an odd but ultimately effective way to structure the night, giving it an old-fashioned R&B revue type feel  while showcasing the polar different vibes the West Coast scene could offer during its 1990s heyday.

In fact, Snoop’s Cali to Canada Tour seems like an homage to that scene, featuring not only The Dogg Pound and Snoop — who became a star in that decade — but also peers Warren G. and DJ Quik.

Snoop arrived on set with appropriate fanfare, rolling out through smoke in a blue convertible to the strains of Dr. Dre. Given that the backdrops for Warren G and DJ Quik were so stubbornly utilitarian, Snoop’s technicolour, multi-media arrival seemed suitably spectacular by comparison.

The opening numbers flew by in a frantic blur — perhaps that was because of the slight contact high that came with  all that secondary smoke wafting through our section of the Dome — but by the time he slid into the chilling Murder Was the Case, the show had found it’s slow-burn vibe. There was a playful take on Akon’s I Wanna Love You and a solid run through Beautiful, his breezy 2003 duet with Pharrell Williams. Snoop’s sleazy-sultry version of Sexual Eruption was one of many moments dedicated to the “beautiful ladies” in the crowd. Other highlights included two cameos by The Lady of Rage, another 1990s peer who offered electrifying performances of her own material.

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The Dogg Pound were also solid and high-octane, particularly when offering pounding hits such as Let’s Play House, Favorite Color Blue and Dr. Dre’s Let’s Get High.

Yes, getting high was a favourite topic both in songs and banter Friday night. West Coast rappers seem to drop the topic into conversation with the same frequency that bro-country bores talk about whiskey and beer. They just do it with more humour and finness. Both DJ Quik and Warren G asked if it was OK to light up before lighting up (What were we going to say? No? We’re Canadian.)

Opening Friday’s night’s festivities was British Columbia rapper Merkules, who performed an efficient 20-minute set. He often came across as a motivational speaker, albeit a very sweary one who offered a sorta-apology to parents of the children in the audience for dropping F-bombs every “third word” but assured them his songs have kid-friendly messages behind them if they listened carefully enough. It was an impressive if brief set that conveyed both gravity and gratitude.

DJ Quik offered a low-key sampler-set, which at one point seemed to include a medley of songs that he had produced for other artists. Killer runs through both Tonight and Born and Raised in Compton, both from his 1990 debut Quik is the Name, offered reminders of his place in West Coast hip-hop.

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Warren G gave stage-time to early collaborators Twinz before offering versions of So Fly by 213, a short-lived supergroup he formed in the early aughts with Snoop and the late Nate Dogg, and an appropriately hazy run through Mista Grimm’s ode to pot, Indo Smoke. He also paid tribute to Nate Dogg, who died in 2011,  by turning his Nobody Does it Better into a crowd-pleasing singalong.

Shoutouts to fallen comrades made up the most poignant parts of Friday’s performance. When Snoop returned for hs final set — sporting a Flames jersey — he offered entertaining versions of Drop it Like It’s Hot, Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None),  50 Cent’s frantic P.I.M.P. and Katy Perry’s 2010 hit California Gurls, which Snoop rapped on. But even more powerful were his tributes to The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur with covers of Hypnotize and 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted, respectively.

At one point, Snoop made reference to the all-ages makeup of the audience by referencing the parents who raised their children on his music. The final song reflected the communal vibe. Released in 2011, Young, Wild and Free is a soaring ballad he performed with Wiz Khalifa and Bruno Mars. Snoop called it “our anthem.” Judging from the swaying, cell-phone waving enthusiasm by the multi-generational crowd, it certainly brought the crowd together on the right note.

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