Friday, July 23, 2010

Bilal and Antibalas concert reviews 7/22/10 New York




JULY 22, 2010

There is no doubt in my mind that singer/songwriter Bilal is an artist of considerable talent and possibly even genius.

And I don’t throw that genius word around easily.

But he’s also clearly a musical eccentric. Which can be a mixed blessing.

Walking on the stage in camouflage pants and a T-shirt that read, simply, “RIOT,” I at first wondered if this was indeed the star of the show. Frankly, he looked so casual he would have fit in with most of the audience. Jumping right in, his mellow sound and slow start to the show made the “RIOT” shirt almost ironic. He had time to talk to a kid on stage. He threw a football to some players behind him. Mr. Oliver did just about everything but capture the audience. I watched a group of a dozen high school students in front of me text messaging, reading, and chatting on their phones.

If three were paying attention it was a lot.

And he wasn’t connecting much better with the rest of the crowd who applauded politely to this most mellow of fellows.

About 45 minutes into the thus far disappointing set, he suddenly stated, “This is the kind of song you have to pour your guts into.”
And he did just that. It was like he was a different performer. Popeye had suddenly eaten his spinach; if there had been a roof he would have torn it off. For whatever reason, a fire had been lit under him and song after song, I realized just how great this young man is. Elements of jazz, rock, blues and of course R&B and everything in between emanated from him and he pulled them all off masterfully.

That is, until the guy just abruptly stopped. And declared the show over.

No build up. No nothing.

Just over.

“Odd,” I thought to myself.
Maybe realizing that what had just transpired hadn’t quite lived up to his hype, the announcer/festival producer who had sung Bilal’s praises, took the stage. “I never do this…” but he literally called the band back out.

Bilal declared that he was unprepared for his encore and the band practically huddled, figuring out what to perform. Nonetheless, it was smoking. As was the next and next and everything after.

It was like an “overtime” had been declared. And thank Heaven because it turned it into a memorable gig.

Bilal left the stage, plugging the wrong venue for his upcoming 9/18 BB King’s CD release show. Then he came back, corrected the mistake, and referred to himself as a “space case.”

Well, there may be some truth to that as today the eccentricities certainly showed. But so did the genius.

Like many of the true greats, you really don’t know from minute to minute just what this performer is going to do. And the funny thing is I doubt he does either. Which makes for an experience that’s live, not Memorex.

And isn’t that what a concert is all about?

--Evan Ginzburg



JULY 22, 2010

Antibalas, the famed Brooklyn based Afrobeat group, have received worldwide acclaim as the “house band” for the brilliant Broadway show Fela.

And rightfully so.

As I’ve seen this musical collective many times since their inception, I can tell you for a fact that their dozen years together have served them well. They have evolved into master showmen and are a world class act.

Forming a near circle on stage in the gorgeous venue, the ten piece outfit were so tremendous on this night it bordered on the supernatural. Their music is driving and hypnotic; the hour forty-five show felt like it was a fraction as long. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that it seemed like the clock had almost stopped. Every one of the twelve hundred plus fans were on their feet and transformed into a throbbing mass of dancing, swaying, and grooving bodies.

Interestingly enough, their music now has hints of Latin and even Arabic influences beyond their Afrobeat forte. And it only made their near flawless set that much more impressive.

One Fela number built to such a crescendo that it reached a level of musicianship that few groups could ever hope to match. A mob of musicians had somehow, seamlessly merged into one.

If there was one flaw to the evening it was the three hour wait for tickets, entrance to the venue, and the lengthy time before the show actually started. It all felt a bit excessive. This was a mature, well behaved group of music loving fans, not enemy soldiers storming this castle which was built during the War of 1812.

Interestingly, the drummer was a white kid who looked about 14 (but who likely is a few years older). You’d figure he’d be listening to Rap or Rock or whatever else our youth is tuning into. But isn’t it our good fortune that he chose Afrobeat as his muse? Ditto all our other local heroes in Antibalas who carry Fela’s torch ever so proudly.

Bravo and thank you for a truly wonderful show.

--Evan Ginzburg-

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