Following up on an excellent performance by the Living Legends last quarter, After Hours @ the Hub started spring off by hosting hip hop crew Hieroglyphics last Thursday night. The Oakland natives proved their status as veteran performers with an energetic yet casual show; however, the absence of Del tha Funkee Homosapien kept a good night of music from becoming a great one.

Two alliterative opening acts preceded Hiero: Savvy and Sabatage. Savvy strung some interesting flows together, but his overall sound seemed more in line with to the recent hyphy style than the older roots of the Bay Area sound that Hieroglyphics pioneered back in the early ’90s. A refrain like “Cellie on my right, tool on my left” isn’t usually expected at an underground show, but Savvy’s act made for a nice, quick opener.

The second act, Sabatage, was more unabashedly vocal about his association with hyphy music.

“This is some real ‘get stupid’ music,” he proclaimed over a bass beat like a thunder roll and some minimalist twinkling of techno synth. As he took the stage, some of Sabatage’s promoters began to flip pink and green glowsticks into the darkness in front of the stage like so many neon deep-sea anemones. The lights came down and Sabatage emerged wearing a gold rope around his neck similar to those found on old episodes of “Yo! MTV Raps.” He also sported a red L.E.D. visor reminiscent of eyewear worn by both Daft Punk and Lieutenant Geordi La Forge from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Sabatage also happens to be a UCSB graduate from the class of 2007, so his hometown influence seemed to multiply his efforts to get the crowd up and moving.

His set, especially the songs “Meet Me on Top” and local favorite “IV,” charged up the crowd by tapping into a little more intensity than Savvy. The last of his songs did manage to rile up some of the crowd in a negative way, though – it centered on his sexual endeavors with sorority members here at UCSB. With the help of a few gyrating sorority sisters on stage, Sabatage sang a couple verses that included a claim that he “fucked your whole composite” – a group photo of a sorority like the ones found in Déjà Vu. This lyrical equivalent of a JuicyCampus post elicited boos from the crowd, but the UCSB alumnus just laughed as he left the stage, as if his sentiments were mostly for fun.

Where Savvy lacked punch and Sabatage reveled in gleeful immaturity, Hieroglyphics came out with soul and experience. The group went to work with a purpose. Although, in a brief interview before their show, its members stressed that rapping had never felt like a job or chore.

“If this is a job,” mused Hiero member A-Plus as he peered out from beneath his red cap and iPod ear buds, “then it is like a dream job, man. It ain’t one that you could complain about.”

“Fun in the sun,” agreed Opio as he poured Don Julio, the group’s liquor of choice, into a plastic red cup.

The band’s enjoyment and collective control was present in almost all of its onstage actions. Transitions between songs from its early career, such as “After Dark” off of 3rd Eye Vision, and more recent songs were accomplished flawlessly. Each member credits their ample experience working and composing together as the source of their ability to anticipate one another’s rhythms.

“We have our own routines that we get into,” said Opio. “But we always try to have somethin’ a little different in each show, you know? We try to stay spontaneous.” After performing a few more staple songs like “Powers That Be” and “Classic” off of 2003’s Full Circle, each one of the members had a chance for a personal freestyle. Opio and Pep Love’s freestyles were strong and well crafted; Casual’s short, self-titled song from 3rd Eye Vision was unfortunately muted by a quiet microphone. Before and after the microphone problem, a growing dissension could be felt in the crowd as it wondered aloud – often very drunkenly – why Del had not put in an appearance.

None of the group members commented on his absence, but Domino did mention that Del plans to release an album with Compound 7 as part of their L.E.D. collaboration. Also, Opio’s Vultures Wisdom will drop soon as well. A highly anticipated third studio album should be due out from Hieroglyphics as a group, but the band was not willing to formally announce a release date. Even though every member has achieved individual success, they still release their music through their own independent label, Hieroglyphics Imperium Records. Each album will be available on its Web site,

Domino had the following to say about the role of Internet downloads for independent artists: “It probably affects us as much as it does on other major artists. We just don’t have the same kind of money to put into promotion that they do. We get most of our income from shows and the T-shirts or CDs we sell at our shows. I am not gonna say that it doesn’t [[MISSING WORD MOLLIE!!!]] to hear that somebody downloads our shit for free, but sometimes you get somebody who says, ‘I downloaded your songs and now I am here bumpin’ at your show.’ It’s just another form of promotion. If people really like your shit, they are going to come out no matter what.”

When asked what keeps bringing Hieroglyphics back to Santa Barbara, Domino answered quickly. “Demand,” he said. “We’re from the West Coast, and we get a lot of love out here.” The Hub crowd’s enthusiasm, despite a missing Del, confirmed this fact. Sometimes, powerful Hieroglyphics need no translation.