This venue is way more crowded than it was an hour ago,” Busta Rhymes announced, surveying Rock the Bells’ audience June 27th at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in suburban Chicago — the first stop on RTB’s seven-week, 10-city tour. “Let’s turn this bitch up, right now!”

Then the co-headlining MC, his perennial hypeman Spliff Star, and ace DJ Roc Raida bashed through Rhymes’ gleefully bawdy “Make It Clap.” And from that point on, savvy showman Rhymes — whose headlining performance had been immediately preceded by predictable and adventurous sets, respectively, from Big Boi and the Roots — owned Rock the Bells’ crowd.

They roared at every intro to Busta’s life-of-the-party parade of hits — “Pass the Courviosier,” “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See,” and more — and apparently forgave him for serving up only snippets of each. “He’s a tease, man,” one fan griped, but he was smiling.

Less congenial were the grumblings of festgoers who felt like victims of corporate greed. Having ponied up $30-$100 for tickets — not overly outlandish, granted, for 11 hours and 25 acts, including electrifying breakout artist K’naan, the Somali-Canadian Afro-pop rapper (who more than lived up to the hype) — attendees then found themselves hostage to the venue’s usurious concession prices. No recession-relief at this Amphitheatre: one slice of pizza and one domestic draft beer set you back nearly $20.

To find out how Nas and Damian Marley fared at Rock The Bells, click here for more!

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