It was like we were visited by the ghost of hip-hop past.

Eazy-E, the N.W.A. legend who died in 1995, returned to the stage on Saturday and thrilled fans at the 2013 Rock the Bells festival at Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View.

Of course, he wasn't there in the flesh. He appeared via the virtual performance technology known as Pepper's ghost, the same method used to famously resurrect Tupac Shakur at the Coachella festival last year. The process, using a reflective screen and lighting techniques, produces a result that is akin to a hologram, although, technically speaking, it's not one.

The main thing, though, is it worked.

Tout 2: Tout 3:

From where I was standing, in the back of the lower reserved section of the Shoreline bowl, it truly appeared as if Eazy-E was on stage rapping with the members of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. His movements were quite fluid and he even interacted with other performers onstage.

The result, for better or worse, is that the 2013 Rock the Bells will be remembered at least as much for the rappers who weren't really there as it will be for the ones who were. Besides the ghost of Eazy-E, Ol' Dirty Bastard (ODB) -- who died in 2004 -- was scheduled to virtually rejoin his old pals in Wu-Tang Clan on Sunday.


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Yes, it was a weird situation. Yet, it could end up being a landmark one. Virtual technology isn't going away anytime soon. Years from now, fans who were at Saturday's show could be telling their children -- who by then might have grown accustomed to watching hologram-like performances -- about the first time they saw virtual entertainers at Rock the Bells.

Fortunately, the dead didn't completely overshadow the living at Rock the Bells. The festival once again offered up an embarrassment of hip-hop riches. The festival, promising more than 11 hours of music Saturday and Sunday, featured dozens of hot newcomers and savvy veterans on three stages.

It was almost too much of a good thing, given that there was no way to catch everything worth watching. That led to some very difficult decisions -- all of which would have consequences.

I did a double take (right before I wept) when I saw that Kendrick Lamar, Deltron 3030 and Juicy J -- three of the most enticing acts on the bill -- were scheduled to perform at the same time. And how does one pick between old-school legend KRS-One and new-school hero Kid Cudi?

In all, the set times left much to be desired. There were too many moments with too much going on, and long stretches where there wasn't much to see. Organizers have traditionally done a much better job in staggering the performances at Rock the Bells.

This year's festival wasn't nearly the hit at the gate as 2012's fandango, which sold out in advance. Saturday, by my rough estimate, only 12-14,000 turned out to the 22,000-capacity venue on Saturday.

That might be because this year's lineup was chock full of retreads --albeit, worthy ones. Most notably, Kid Cudi headlined the main stage on Day One, just like he did in 2012. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Lamar, Slick Rick and Common were among the other repeats.

Still, it's hard to knock a festival that offers this much great music. The big-name headliners, such as Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Kid Cudi, all sounded terrific on Saturday. Yet, I equally enjoyed catching such lesser-known artists as Brother Ali and Big K.R.I.T.

One of the things that truly differentiated this year's festival -- especially for local fans -- was Saturday's set with Vallejo's E-40 and Oakland's Too Short . Both Bay Area rap legends sounded strong, but, oddly, they didn't perform together -- something that left fans grumbling about a missed opportunity.

Too bad we can't control live performances in the same way we do virtual ones.

Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.