BULLFROG AND KID KOALA and ANTIBALAS AFROBEAT ORCHESTRA performing as part of the Fresh Festival at Harbourfront Centre, Saturday, September 1. Tickets: free. Attendance: 2,500. Rating: NNNN
there was a chill in the air down on the waterfront, but the beautiful people kept warm by busting a move on Saturday night. Bullfrog got the initially lukewarm crowd hopping with a dynamic set of hiphop-infused jazz-funk. The six-piece Montreal-based group, which includes turntable wizard Kid Koala (Eric San), has won fans both on the jazz fest circuit and in hipper-than-thou Gen-X lounges with their witty, lit-savvy lyrics and considerable instrumental skill.
Their experience playing to divergent audiences came in handy at Harbourfront Centre, where camera-toting tourists, jazz-loving boomers, anarchist punks and hiphop heads struggled to find some common ground. They found it on the dance floor.
The Kid's turntable antics took a back seat to MC James Sobers, aka Blu13, aka "the Killah Platapus," who shone -- beatboxing to kill between tracks and providing soulful backing vocals on star guitarist Mark Robertson's James Brownesque funk numbers.
"We're gonna get into a bit of hiphop, 'cause Koala likes to hear me rhyme," the goofy MC explained before the encore as the band launched into an impressive improvised tongue-twister of a track. Using the non sequitur lexicon of old spelling bee records spinning on the decks ("h-a-n-d-k-e-r-c-h-i-e-f -- handkerchief") as a starting point, Sobers sizzled through a sweet assault of hiphop poetry.
On their final encore, Bullfrog taunted the crowd with the warning that it was their last chance to get down with the funk. Thirty minutes later, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra took the stage for a kick-out-the-jams set of Fela Kuti-influenced soulful funky jazz.
The 14-piece-plus band provided gorgeous horn flourishes, Latin-tinged polyrhythmic breaks and frenetic onstage energy that had even the folks in the back of the amphitheatre on their feet dancing.
With a name that means bulletproof in Spanish, and a music-is-stronger-than-guns philosophy, Antibalas served up a hearty dose of polemic with their performance.
Each of the band's seven-minute-plus jams came with a profound message -- from the enduring presence of colonialism through race relations to the fear tactics employed by police states. Definitely not funk for featherweights.
Fela -- and Emma Goldman -- would have been proud.