When Wale’s backing band slid into a sultry riff from eighties slow-jam gem “Don’t Disturb This Groove” last night at S.O.B.’s, they might have been trying to send the D.C. rapper a message. His headlining set had already zigzagged through a long-winded introduction from DJ Green Lantern, a cameo by fellow Washingtonian Tabi Bonney, a scratch routine, and some meandering a cappella verses from Wale himself — one of which ended with a pointed couplet: “I don’t care, I got talent / Fuck John McCain and fuck Sarah Palin.” As fans cheered, Wale encouraged the vice-presidential nominee to “go back to your igloo.”
It was a rare straightforward moment during Mark Ronson’s largely disjointed Allido Records showcase — a bill that featured Daniel Merriweather, the Rumble Strips, and Rhymefest. (Ronson, ever bespoke, was billed as the D.J. but only sauntered onstage once, to strum a guitar alongside Merriweather.) The night was Wale’s for the taking, but he never summoned the easygoing playfulness that marks his mix tapes. His backing troupe — Uncalled 4 Band, the renowned D.C. go-go squad whose “Don’t Disturb This Groove” interpolation “Sexy Lady” has been a staple on D.C. radio for the past few years — gave the rapper a huge boost during “W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E.,” transposing Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” into a hammering go-go anthem. For the second verse, Wale slowed things down to a syrupy crawl that go-go fans know as the pocket. It was utterly righteous, and to the audience, somewhat perplexing — you could practically see the cartoon question marks blooming over their heads. “Y’all fuck with go-go music?” Wale later asked to tepid applause. “‘Cause it’s about to be a new day!” Apparently it isn’t, not quite yet.