Brother Ali at First Avenue, 10/5/12
Photo By Erik Hess
With Blank Tape Beloved, Homeboy Sandman, the Reminders, and DJ Sosa
First Avenue, Minneapolis
October 5, 2012
Brother Ali captured the attention of the Twin Cities music scene long ago, but the level of local excitement has grown to a fever pitch as of late. Anticipation for the release of Ali's incisive new album, Mourning In America and Dreaming In Color, has been building since he previewed some of the tracks during an Entry set back in May. That gig was also his first show with his new live band, Blank Tape Beloved, a group that Ali has been taking around with him on his current U.S. tour.
And on Friday night, after giving area fans a few weeks to soak up the lyrical depth and wisdom featured on his bold new record, Brother Ali returned to a sold-out First Avenue for a triumphant 90-minute homecoming show which highlighted the MC's fiery sociopolitical insight as well how tight he and his hard-hitting live band have gotten while touring together.
Blank Tape Beloved featured a stellar horn trio led by Jordan Katz, guitarist Bill Titus, and Heiruspecs' DeVon Gray on keys, and the group laid down a soulful groove before Ali took the stage to a deafening ovation. Ali took a moment to let it soak in, obviously happy to be back home, then addressed the crowd, "It's been a long time. Let's get caught up real quick" before they launched into the impassioned, emotionally drenched "Stop the Press." The track featured Ali's touching remembrances of both his father and Eyedea, whose mention got a large ovation from the hometown crowd.
But it seemed that Ali was intent on getting the sad song out of the way straight out of the box, and getting the party started on the next number. He introduced a rousing version of "The Preacher" by saying, "It feels so good to be here. Let's start this right. Let's get this cracking." And indeed, things got live in a real hurry, as both the band and Ali were focused and on point for the entire 20-song set. The group quickly launched into a resounding trio of new songs, kicked off by the anthemic, old-school beats of Ali's current single "Only Life I Know." That was followed by a sinister but hopeful take on "Fajr," and "Work Everyday," which featured Ali changing up his lines a bit to make the track even more topical, "You stuck a Romney sign on your foreclosed house."
Photos By Erik Hess
Ali then took a moment to connect even further with the crowd, "I've been making albums for 10 years now. Is it OK if we do something from every one of them tonight? (Massive cheer) That's what's up." And with that, he dusted off "Tightrope" from Us, "Dorian" from Shadows On The Sun, and an intense run through of "Uncle Sam Goddamn" from The Undisputed Truth, which he introduced by saying, "I got into a lot of trouble for this song, I hope you enjoy it." He switched up his lyrics once again to more immediately match the tone of the nation, "Obama, I guess you still got me, but you're going to have to do better than just beating Romney."
Ali beat out an electronic-aided drum solo while he and the group caught a Maceo Parker-like groove that served as a lengthy introduction to a rousing version of "Mourning In America," which Ali introduced with a prayer, and featured three female dancers dressed in burqas (like in the video for the track). Ali ceded centerstage to their striking choreographed moves, but managed to still deliver his most intense lyrics of the night from back by the horn players. "Say Amen" had some moody, urgent beats that perfectly complimented Ali's fervent verses, while the band generated some haunting, wistful rhythms to go along with Ali's pained, poignant take on the tragic "Babygirl," a song which the MC said he hasn't ever done live until this tour.
Photos By Erik Hess
The rest of the band left the stage while Ali took a moment to thank everyone and preach a bit about his love of the Twin Cities and Minnesota's rich musical history (name-checking Bob Dylan, Prince, and Atmosphere in the process), and how "when you grow up looking like me you don't get celebrated a lot." But then he hit on something that truly hit home, especially in the modern age. "I grew up believing that we should use things and love people. But instead, most of society uses people and loves things." Testify Ali, you'll get no argument here.
A commanding take on "Walking Away" (and the warm response from the receptive hometown crowd) perhaps gave Ali some extra confidence to try a Mourning song they've never done live before. And while it was a treat to hear the first run through of "My Beloved," Ali realized that the track wasn't quite hitting as it should, and stopped it after a couple verses. A trio of tracks from Shadows On The Sun got the set soaring again, as spirited takes on "Forest Whitiker," "Prince Charming" and "Blah Blah Blah" really set the place off, especially the last of the three, which featured a brief but dynamic guest appearance from Slug, who delivered his blazing verse alongside his friend before quickly giving the spotlight back to Ali.
Photos By Erik Hess
The main set ended with the vibrant one-two punch of "Self Taught" and "Fresh Air," with Ali lingering on stage and taking in the proud moment. "You feel this love, motherfuckers? It's been three years since I released an album, and I didn't know if anyone would still be there when I came back. You have always been there for me, and I truly thank you for that."
After a brief break, Ali and the band returned for the encore, kicking things off with a boisterous version of "Letter To My Countrymen," which caused Ali to joke that "I've got my IT people working on making a hologram Cornel West," who is featured on the studio version. Ali went on to talk about how "So seldom in life do we get to experience real love and real joy," and he then invited out openers the Reminders and Homeboy Sandman for a celebratory version of set closer "Truth Is," which gave everyone in the club one last concrete example of real joy during a night filled with exultant, impassioned moments from an MC who was truly happy to be home.
Photo By Erik Hess
Personal Bias: While I've still been listening to his albums, I haven't seen Brother Ali live in five years, and never with a live band. He's really come into his own as an MC, and the live band he has behind him adds some real fire to his already expressive material.
The Crowd: Packed with Ali's fans, friends, and family, all looking to show him support while getting down on a Friday night.
Overheard In The Crowd: Nothing but love.
Random Notebook Dump: For everyone who couldn't get in to this sold-out show, Ali and his crew did it all over again Saturday night, and also put on a Day Of Dignity celebration on Sunday outside Ali's North Minneapolis Mosque, which featured performances from Atmosphere, MaLLy, Sims, Prof, Stalley, The Reminders, and Y.N.RichKids.
Stop The Press
Only Life I Know
Uncle Sam Goddamn
Mourning In America
Blah Blah Blah (Featuring Slug)
Letter To My Countrymen (Encore)
Truth Is (With Homeboy Sandman and the Reminders)(Encore)
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