Yasiin Bey (a.k.a. Mos Def) at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom, 10/5/12 (photos and review) - Reverb

Yasiin Bey (a.k.a. Mos Def) at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, 10/5/12 (photos and review)

Yasiin Bey must love a challenge.

Because when a headliner takes the stage past 12:30 a.m., which Bey did Friday night at Cervantes’ Masterpiece, he faces a restless room.

Here some folks were snoozing in the rafters, while others had wandered off to the neighboring club. They may or may not have returned. Those who remained were mostly so drunk and stoned that they barely took notice of what was happening on stage.

And this is to say nothing about why a guy with more than two decades invested in a stage moniker — Mos Def — opted for a public name change a few years back. (Well, sort of: You still never see “Yasiin Bey” on a marquis without the accompanying words “formerly Mos Def.”)

For those still pondering the new name, here’s an explanation from one of the artist’s Facebook pages: “Mos Def is a name that I built and cultivated over the years, it’s a name that the streets taught me, a figure of speech that was given to me by the culture and by my environment, and I feel I’ve done quite a bit with that name. but it’s time to expand and move on.” [sic]

Moving on to Friday night’s Denver show, Bey benefitted from deft warm ups by Scarub of The Living Legends, Binary Star, and most especially DJ Cavem, who delivered varied sets between acts that showcased his ability to respond to the crowd while weaving together old school soul with contemporary hip-hop.

But this loose crowd finally got what it paid for when the stage went dark and then a red spotlight illuminated Bey at the mic, looking rap-dapper in fitted white slacks and a dress shirt topped with a blazer and baseball cap. He acknowledged the late hour, “We hope it’s worth your time to spend time in this place with me and mine,” then attempted to regain the night’s momentum with a funk- and dancehall-infused mash-up doused with crowd call-and-response. Bey drew heavily from the classic Black Star catalog, presenting just the right mix of bravado and street poetry. In the end, he mounted a performance that would make Mos Def proud, even if it was hard to avoid wondering: Was it worth the wait?

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Elana Ashanti Jefferson is an editor at The Denver Post and a longtime music fan.

Michael McGrath is a Denver area photographer. His work is available at Twist and Shout Records. Visit his website.

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