Antibalas at First Avenue, 9/11/12

Categories: Last Night
Photo By Erik Hess

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Antibalas: Who Is This America?
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Antibalas with Malamanya
First Avenue, Minneapolis
September 11, 2012

With the dark anniversary of 9/11 hanging over everyone's head, Antibalas proved to be the perfect remedy for any sad memories, as the 11-piece Afrobeat orchestra from Brooklyn put on a rousing, energetic two-hour set at First Avenue that had both the band and the crowd dancing their cares away. The group is touring behind their new self-titled album for Daptone Records, and this show, which launched their fall tour, drew heavily from that funky and festive new collection of songs.

The ages of the members of the diverse group span a wide range, from 21 to 54, and the cultural, stylistic blend of the group really adds a raw edge to their sound that proves to be as infectious as it is inventive. Quite a few members of the group have recently been playing in the pit band for the Broadway production of "Fela!," an homage to legendary Nigerian Afrobeat bandleader Fela Kuti. But on this night, it was all about the music of Antibalas and the eternal lingering influence of Fela over the current Afrobeat scene .

Their new drummer, Miles Arntzen, took to the stage alone to lay down a smooth beat while the rest of the group slowly filtered out to join him as the intro gradually picked up steam. Eventually, singer/percussionist Amayo charismatically took to the stage, dressed flamboyantly in brightly striped pants with red leather shoes. His impassioned vocals on "The Rat Catcher," along with a ripping trumpet solo from Jordan McLean, allowed the song to truly take flight, and the band didn't touch down for the next two hours.

Photos By Erik Hess

The group really caught a Maceo Parker-like groove at the start of an expansive "Dirty Money," which featured rich, robust saxophone solos from both Martin Perna on baritone and Stuart D. Bogie on tenor. Antibalas founder Perna then took to the front of the stage to warmly thank all of us for coming, "We're all so happy to be playing First Avenue. We played some dark shows in America's heartland before coming here in 2007, and you guys and this place lifted us right up. And we hope to do the same for you tonight."

And with that, the group launched into a rousing, spirited run through of "Him Belly No Go Sweet," which featured a short Happy Birthday riff at the start for Bogie, who was celebrating birthday at the show. The uplifting track absolutely soared, while also featuring a mellow, Miles Davis-esque trumpet breakdown in the middle before the four-piece horn section truly took the exhilarating song home. The lengthy instrumental "Ari Degbe" followed, and allowed the entire band to stretch out on the sprawling and sprightly number.

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