August 13th, 2012
After talking to the DJ-half of The Very Best last week for a feature (click on it and scroll down for a pretty great comment), we had to go check out their set to see if they were going to bring the energy that their sophomore, MTMTMK, oozes. As it turns out, they did.
1. After their opening, opening act, Granchildren, came Seye. A tall, skinny Brit who closed his electrified guitar-based singer-songwritery set with a cover of “You Can Call Me Al,” from Paul Simon’s Graceland. A knowing nod to the Africanism-infusion that got kick-started with Simon’s iconic 1986 record? And the way that The Very Best falls somewhere into that tradition? Most definitely.
2. Seye’s in the band, now, too. And he even co-wrote a song that they did later in the set, “Kondaine,” which ripped live.
3. The opening song didn’t really pull the 30-40 first floor attendees close to the stage. So they did “I Wanna Go Away” as a ‘warm-up’ before they commanded that the crowd get closer. Some bright and vivid red lights that came on during the song also helped create a little bit more of a club and dancefloor atmosphere. “Julia” was, seemingly, one of the last songs before things got hectic.
4. We’ve said this before, but songs in a foreign language make you take funny notes. When titles of songs are in Chichewa, it’s also hard to identify them even by the singing. So it becomes about the beats. And one thing that can be said about their live set – it really makes you appreciate the beats, the melodies and the rhythms more because you can rarely sing along. Unless you’re one of those super-fans who has learned broken Chichewa so that you can sing along to the whole record. THAT WOULD BE SO IMPRESSIVE/WEIRD. Anyway, the remaining Radioclit founder and production portion of The Very Best, Hugo’s work, was on display. Live, there’s a house and dance aspect of the band that smacks you upside the head.
5. There are two additional folks on stage and they were essential. As mentioned, Seye, the axe-wielder, actually assumed a position of being a ringleader and emcee for the night’s energy. He speaks proper English, which is a great asset, because Esau is from Malawi and Hugo’s from Sweden. And they snagged, for their fourth man, a Senegalese percussionist named Magnate Sow, whose insane bongo work was the perfect little bow on top of their well-packaged high-energy stage presence.
6. Back to the club vibes. There were a few times when the room was hanging on a beat to drop in, or waiting through lulls of lower energy before a big beat swooped in. For those who were looking for a club-like, almost house vibe, they got it. It was almost like a tiny little mini-Making Time. You could go as buck as you wanted to the rhythms and beats, only emphasized by the pulsing lights and colorful projection screen, or you could sit back and bob your head. Noticeable, though, was Hugo’s tendency to do what most live DJs do – make dramatic arm gestures towards the crowd as if he was literally dropping rhythms or throwing them at us. Just a little corny.
7. Then came the part of the night where the most absurd notes were taken: “Uh oh uh oh / Uh oh uh oh.” Hmm, that might be every song. Then there was this: “CALL-AND-RESPONSE Ay ay —> oh oh.” So yeah, you didn’t have to speak African (that’s a joke) to participate in Esau’s attempts to hype and charm the crowd. Where Esau and Hugo lacked, Seye MORE than covered. Mr. Bongos was just the strong, silent, bongo-hammering type all night.
8. They did, indeed, pull out “Warm Heart of Africa,” it was just a ‘different’ version. The charming, Ezra Koenig-guested track from the title track of their debut had been chopped and screwed into a banging dancefloor-blender.
9. There was some supremely awful-but-awesome white-people-dancing in the house. So many brutal sandals and corny arm movements. But that’s not to criticize or complain. GET DOWN! This music begs for it and the fact that JB’s was a place for those Fishtown dweebs to get their dance on is purely a good thing.
10. For as much talk surrounding their non-interest in making “African music” or “world music,” their merch t-shirts say “Africa Is The Future.” Hugo was wearing one. S’a little confusing.