The Best Love is Free IV at the Fine Line, 2/9/13
The Best Love is Free, featuring Cecil Otter
with Later Babes, I Colossus and Sophia Eris
Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Now that the Best Love is Free showcase and the Twin Cities have had a steady thing going for a few years here, it's become quite a prosperous and happy relationship. After our initial swoon over the handsome Mr. Botzy and company some four Valentine's Days ago, the event's trademark mixtape-exchange and couples-oriented theme has remained intact while the crowd has swelled to sell out the Fine Line's rather spacious digs. But just like any long-term love affair, it's always important to evaluate our partner for who they've grown to be, rather than relying on our memories of that first rush of passion. So is the Best Love Free forever?
The Fine Line's two-tiered, club-like atmosphere seemed a natural fit for the stylish-attire-suggested event on Saturday. In fact, with all the dapper twenty-somethings pairing off, the vibe was distinctly "spring formal," I half-expected some patrons to show up in a rented limo. The organizers did a great job of sticking with the Valentine's theme, and features such as a photo-booth near the back provided some fun mugging opportunities before the music got started. Alas, there was no chocolate sponsorship. Next year!
Chalice member Sophia Eris kicked the night off after a brief introduction from Botzy, performing with a small band comprised of guitar, bass and a surprisingly fantastic beatboxer by the name of Manny. While such instrumentation definitely had the potential for disaster, the band exercised admirable restraint and locked into some sultry, jazz grooves for Sophia to rap and croon over. While Eris still seemed a bit nervous to be rocking the stage without her usual comrades, the songs she was performing had a really enjoyable smoky, groovy '90s R&B kind of vibe. Rapping with a sing-song almost old-school flow and hooks reminiscent of D'Angelo, the mellow, subdued performance made for a great start to the night. Sophia even took a short break from music to acknowledge her background in spoken word, delivering a couple of short poems that had the crowd snapping along like Love Jones.
Eris' homegirls eventually found their way onstage one by one. Lizzo was first, and the two performed a couple of new songs from their Absynthe project, first with the live band and then over-laptop with the accompaniment of DJ Spacebar (a real woman, in this case). Absynthe was tough to gauge during this first performance, with one slinkier R&B number bumping up against two jacked up club bangers. Finally, Claire de Lune took the stage for some Chalice material that got the crowd thoroughly amped. My date and I were split on our opinions of the overall performance from the three women: I was happier with seeing a new side of Sophia during her solo performance, while the better half preferred the empowering collaboration of the three ladies together.
Love only stands the test of time if we're honest with our partners and accepting of their shortcomings, so it's probably time to mention I, Colossus's performance. Frontman and guitarist Matthew Sandstedt certainly seemed to be enamored with his vocal-effects plugins, which is a real shame as he appears to be a more than capable singer. The band's entire set was awash in that saccharine blend of Auto-tune-and-vocoder vocal delivery.
Supported by his bandmates on synth and sample-pad, respectively, Sandstedt belted memorable pop melodies that were crushed to a monotone by the heavy digital modulation of their aesthetic. Even the sugar-coated hooks started to feel sickly sweet by the end of set. While we're probably not their target audience, my date and I felt that the band's set was akin to polishing off a box of Russel Stover's in one sitting. Initially attractive, but by the end, "kind of like high school," in her words.
Later Babes were a refreshing change of pace, but also seemed to suffer from a sugar overdose. The South Dakota project, featuring member of Soulcrate and We All Have Hooks For Hands traded in the kind of hyperactive quick-mix style of mash-up DJing popularized by Girl Talk and our local Get Cryphy crew. Later Babes put a slight twist on that formula via the addition of live drums and synth, with two members rotating between a traditional drum kit and a newfangled standing-robo-drums type of set-up. Unlike I, Colossus, the group's usage of indie and club rap bangers got the crowd thoroughly amped, but the Later Babes seemed too eager to spend all their chips at once. Quick-mix demands an excellent sense of pacing or it can rapidly become shrill, and while the SoDak band definitely had some fun moments, such as a heavy drumline-style beat behind T.I.'s "What You Know," some of their routines felt dated.
Striding onstage at half-past-midnight, Cecil Otter and his band were greeted enthusiastically by the crowd, who had been kept waiting for a little longer than necessary. Featuring an all-star lineup of Martin Dosh on Drums, Adam Marx on Bass, Dustin Kiel on guitar, and Mark McGee triggering beats and samples, the band ripped through a short but sweet set of Cecil Otter classics. The dreamy Mr. Otter himself seemed to be having a fun time, laughing and joking with his band about some technical issues before inviting Dessa to join him for a spin through "Little Mercy." Maybe it was just the romantic atmosphere, but the duo's unmistakable chemistry sizzled onstage enough to rekindle my date's long-held Doomtree romance fanfiction. While it would have been nice to see Cecil perform some new material, the live band provided enough of a refreshing take on the well-worn songs to make the performance thoroughly enjoyable.
Botzy closed the night with a heartfelt thank-you to all the organizers, and as the satisfied crowd filtered out I was left with distinct impression that The Best Love is Free and the Twin Cities are going to happy together for quite a long time.
Cecil's Set List:
A Rickety Bridge
Little Mercy with Dessa
The Crowd: Definitely got the memo about this being a formal-attire event, except for a couple of heads stubbornly wearing the hoodie-and-fitted combo.
Random Notebook Dump: "Please, for the love of god, don't talk to the crowd with the auto-tune turned on."
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