Soundfuse: “Concert Reviews: Chicago Afrobeat Project”

December 10, 2010

This article originally appeared on Soundfuse.

I arrived to the Mayne Stage and could already hear the music blasting. Having not really looked at the details about the show, I was afraid that I had missed a bunch of Chicago Afrobeat Project’s (CAbP) set. The dancefloor was open (just like I had hoped for in my last review of a Mayne Stage show) and people were getting down to the funky good sounds. In fact, there was so much energy in the room that the band playing could have been the headliner of the evening. They were not, however, and were actually a Chicago band called Bumpus. Within 5 minutes, they announced that the next song was their last. I was bummed because I was really digging the music. The last jam was a dirty, bass-driven brand of funk complete with fierce blues riffs, massive horns, and some great vocals. The major highlight for me was the bass guitarist, Travis Chandler. His lines were tight, quick, and groovy; constantly on the move and never repetitive for more than a second or two. He drew me in and I couldn’t help but hone in on his part of the sound. This final song was really good and it made me wish I had been there for the entire set.

 

A few more people trickled in as the intermission slipped away. The next band up was another Chicago group called VertiKal. They laid out a soft, ethereal intro with soothing nonverbal vocals from Stacy Rene. It was really a cool way to start the show. Especially considering the next song went in a completely different direction. The horn section came out along with a rapper, Ben Butter, to transform the sound into a more hip-hop/R&B-oriented arrangement. Later on in the set was a song I really liked called “Ready Or Not.” Rene and Butter alternated singing and rapping in quick succession as an interesting method of adding a dynamic edge to the music. This song sounded very sharp, like they had practiced it to death and could play it with their eyes closed. Just after this song was probably my favorite of their set. It was a funky, jazzy little instrumental number with a pulsating bassline and relaxed keys. This song got me groovin’. After this, they returned to a focused rap & soul energy for the rest of their time. I enjoyed the set overall, but looking back, I’m struck by the fact that my favorite part was an instrumental jam… from a decidedly vocal-heavy band. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the vocals, I just find myself being more & more drawn to instrumental music.

Another intermission disappeared and again it seemed as if a few more people had arrived. There was probably 40 people up on the dancefloor and all the tables around the perimeter had people sitting at them. A pretty nice turnout I’d say. Chicago Afrobeat Project came out and wasted no time getting everyone dancing again. A wicked rhythm started off the music and would essentially continue throughout the show. As silly as it sounds, within 1 minute I fully understood the percussion-driven attitude of afrobeat. I had heard elements of this style of percussion before, most notably in the music of Euforquestra. I know there is a whole lot more to it than this, but the defining characteristic to me is the use of rapidfire couplets on a thick plastic cowbell. The higher pitched, sharper sound is distinctive and really speeds up my dancing. Right from the opening notes, I was moving– it was almost impossible to stop shuffling my feet. The high-powered funk sound of this band was exactly what I was craving and I felt like they really jumped off from where Bumpus ended. But CAbP pushed the envelope further in just about every way. The guitar work (especially when using the slide) of David Glines was electric. There was more brass on the stage and was featured very prominently. And there were at least three, and often four simultaneous percussive elements on stage, which provided a massively thick layer of rhythm on which to base the entire sound. This was one of the more complex & robust-sounding bands I’d seen in a while.

Towards the end of the set, they invited some dancers in traditional African dress to kick the energy up even higher. Now the performance had a stunning visual aspect to accompany the dance frenzy-inducing jams. The dancers were so engaging that I really lost myself over the final minutes and had that ‘where-did-that-time-go-I-was-in-a-trance’ feeling. The last song, potentially the most powerful of the night, came complete with the band inviting audience members on the stage to enhance the dance party. Everyone was feeling good and getting down with their bad selves. The entire gamut of musical energy was unleashed in this jam and the horns, keys, and guitar fused perfectly with the onslaught of percussion. This was a serious dance party. I’d love to see this band at a festival next summer; I think they could drop the hammer on a late-nite tent show.

Overall it was another awesome night at the Mayne Stage. This venue is really nice and is a great place to dance like a fool. I was so glad they cleared most of the tables out and let everyone get loose. I’d like to see many more shows at this place in the near future.

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