Antibalas at First Avenue, 9/11/12
Photo By Erik Hess
Antibalas with Malamanya
First Avenue, Minneapolis
September 11, 2012
With the dark anniversary of 9/11 hanging over everyone's head, Antibalas proved to be the perfect remedy for any sad memories, as the 11-piece Afrobeat orchestra from Brooklyn put on a rousing, energetic two-hour set at First Avenue that had both the band and the crowd dancing their cares away. The group is touring behind their new self-titled album for Daptone Records, and this show, which launched their fall tour, drew heavily from that funky and festive new collection of songs.
The ages of the members of the diverse group span a wide range, from 21 to 54, and the cultural, stylistic blend of the group really adds a raw edge to their sound that proves to be as infectious as it is inventive. Quite a few members of the group have recently been playing in the pit band for the Broadway production of "Fela!," an homage to legendary Nigerian Afrobeat bandleader Fela Kuti. But on this night, it was all about the music of Antibalas and the eternal lingering influence of Fela over the current Afrobeat scene .
Their new drummer, Miles Arntzen, took to the stage alone to lay down a smooth beat while the rest of the group slowly filtered out to join him as the intro gradually picked up steam. Eventually, singer/percussionist Amayo charismatically took to the stage, dressed flamboyantly in brightly striped pants with red leather shoes. His impassioned vocals on "The Rat Catcher," along with a ripping trumpet solo from Jordan McLean, allowed the song to truly take flight, and the band didn't touch down for the next two hours.
Photos By Erik Hess
The group really caught a Maceo Parker-like groove at the start of an expansive "Dirty Money," which featured rich, robust saxophone solos from both Martin Perna on baritone and Stuart D. Bogie on tenor. Antibalas founder Perna then took to the front of the stage to warmly thank all of us for coming, "We're all so happy to be playing First Avenue. We played some dark shows in America's heartland before coming here in 2007, and you guys and this place lifted us right up. And we hope to do the same for you tonight."
And with that, the group launched into a rousing, spirited run through of "Him Belly No Go Sweet," which featured a short Happy Birthday riff at the start for Bogie, who was celebrating birthday at the show. The uplifting track absolutely soared, while also featuring a mellow, Miles Davis-esque trumpet breakdown in the middle before the four-piece horn section truly took the exhilarating song home. The lengthy instrumental "Ari Degbe" followed, and allowed the entire band to stretch out on the sprawling and sprightly number.
But it was on the cover of Bob Marley's "Rat Race" where the band truly caught fire, and they injected plenty of heartfelt soul into the inspiring anthem while expanding it to a well-over 10 minute jam. McLean took to the mic to share some sincere thanks with the audience, "Twin Cities, we're hoping through the music we're sharing with you that we're able to convey our love for you tonight." He then talked about the exclusive vinyl that the band had over at their merch stand, and asked everyone who has a turntable at home to make some noise. When a good majority of the crowd roared, he was taken aback a bit, "Wow, this is an unusually hip audience here tonight."
Photos By Erik Hess
A slow-burning but no less potent version of "Security" soon followed, as both the band and the crowd lost themselves in the mesmerizing rhythm and soulful groove of the number. Perna again thanked us as well as local opener, Malamanya, "Thanks for supporting live music. It's easier to make a living as a stagecoach driver than as a live musician, so we truly appreciate your support. And thank you to Malamanya for not just getting things warmed up tonight, but for getting it boiling hot."
"Open And Close" started out as a rhythmic, percussive beast before the brass emphatically took the song forward. The number also featured Amayo leading the crowd through some dance moves as everyone got down to the song's relentless groove. The main set closed with a dynamic version of "Swegba/Paco," which saw the band off to a rousing and well-earned ovation.
Amayo and another percussionist came out for the encore alone, leading the crowd through a rhythmic introduction while the rest of the band slowly came back out to join him. Eventually, the beats gave way to an explosive, nearly 20-minute rendition of "Sáré Kon Kon," which featured a mesmerizing bass line and on point sax solos throughout. As both the buoyant song and the joyous set came to an end, Bogie spun McLean around the stage on his shoulders, clearly feeling the music as much as we all were. Hopefully, Antibalas doesn't take another five years to return to Minneapolis, because we need their good-time vibes now more than ever.
Personal Bias: Other than seeing them with David Byrne at the Walker in 2004 (and a few of their horn players backing up TV On The Radio), I sadly haven't paid Antibalas too much attention over the last few years.
The Crowd: While it wasn't a full-house, those that were there were there to get down.
Overheard In The Crowd: "There is a dude getting down over there in a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt. That shit makes my day."
Random Notebook Dump: The band also had some kind things to say about Daptone Records and recording in the gorgeous Daptone studios. After seeing Sharon Jones and Antibalas struggle to find their audience over the years, it's heartening to see them both finally draw the bigger crowds they deserve in this city.
The Rat Catcher
Him Belly No Go Sweet
Rat Race (Bob Marley)
Open And Close
Sáré Kon Kon (Encore)
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