ANTIBALAS at the Horseshoe, October 30. Tickets: $18. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNN
Queen West may be the hub of all things chic, but the extreme fashions on parade there last Saturday night were pushing it. Even while heading into the belly of the Horseshoe , I noticed many folks actually wearing full costumes: Ali G shot pool with a Mickey D's milkshake and a Catholic priest like it was nothing. Guess funk brings the freaks out. And no one brings the funk to life like Brooklyn's Antibalas .
A standing-room-only crowd of boho culture-seekers and Kensington nu-Rastas had formed by 10:45, when the hardest Afrobeat soldiers in show business seized the scaffold. Positioned behind an organ, congas, guitar, bass and a drum kit - others were armed with horns that looked like they'd been left in the rain for weeks - the orchestra blurted away as one.
Had the Catholic priest been nearby, I'd have told him to thank God this wasn't clean music. A goulash of minor-key sonic grime, the set showed why the heads have unanimously elected Antibalas the sweating torch-carriers of Fela Kuti's electric Nigerian fusion.
The night's brightest highlights came when vocalist Duke Amayo (too rarely) moved from congas to centre stage to preside over the crowd, bellowing sparse African ad libs with facial expressions varying from sexual rapture to intense anger. Dipped head to toe in plum-coloured silk, Amayo channelled Kuti, Busta Rhymes and James Brown as he introduced the songs before the backdrop of plaid-shirted musicians.
"This one is called Security. Translation: Homeland Security," he rumbled before stepping back to his congas, leaving the message in the music. Sorta anti-climactic, not just for want of Amayo's presence, but because you'd think a left-leaning group who dubbed their latest record Who Is This America? would have more to say on the weekend before the most important election of their generation.
After a number of solos, members of the band trickled offstage, and Amayo said they'd be back after "a short break," which turned into a very long break spent outside smoking.
I don't blame them. Out on the street, a game of Twister was very distracting.