Live Review: Antibalas at Nectar Lounge (2/28)

Live Reviews
Emily Slider
photo by Alan Lawrence

This past weekend, Antibalas brought their 20 year anniversary tour to Seattle for a two-night stint at the Nectar Lounge. To celebrate their longevity, the Nectar seemingly fit as many talented musicians on the stage as they could.  The opening band, Cochemea, shares several of their players with Antibalas. Cochemea’s predominant melodies came from their tenor saxophone or flute voice played by band leader, Cochemea Gastelum. Gastelum is most famously associated with the Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, but he has also toured and recorded with the likes of Amy Winehouse, The Roots, and Beck.

Cochemea has a distinct polyrhythmic flavor which had the audience dancing when the night had barely begun to unfold. The Unsinkable Heavies followed Cochemea and brought a softer sound to the stage. Even though the sound was comparably mellow, the inclusion of a Hammond organ was a welcome sonic change. Each member took a turn being the main voice and leading the ensemble while demonstrating their musical prowess. This band clearly loves playing music together and knows their way around their instruments.

When Antibalas made their way onto the stage, the night took a theatrical turn. As well as being world-class musicians, the members of Antibalas are also superb showmen with well-choreographed movement and eccentric outfits.   Their charismatic frontman, Martin Perna, came on stage with gold makeup painted above his eyes and down his nose, with a flashy outfit to match. The entire ensemble was in coordinating earth tones with accents of gold. The custom apparel they wore was the visual manifestation of the funk they brought with their sound.

As soon as they began to play, the audience was rapt with the message being spoken from stage. Perna urged the audience to meditate daily while the horn section punctuated him – as if to agree. He began a call and response about practicing detachment then transitioned to grooving with the ensemble. A pillar of Afrobeat music is social consciousness, and Antibalas does a fantastic job using their platform to encourage love and kindness toward other people.

Perna encouraged everyone to dance and demonstrated how to properly move to the music. He would swing his hips, wait for the audience to follow his movement, and swing his hips another way, thus getting everyone in the crowd to boogie along with him. He brought a few women from the audience onstage to shake to their music, and they pulled everyone deeper into the groove of the night. Antibalas played the best bops from their extensive catalog as well as new material from upcoming albums. Each player was given a chance to strut in the spotlight and be the lead voice.

The amount of talent on stage could not be restrained; and during a danceable trombone solo at the beginning of their song “Dirty Money,” the trombone player jumped off stage and improvised from the pit. Everyone in the band was there to have a great time and play great music, so the inclusion of the audience felt like an added bonus. Antibalas attracts its audience with quality afrobeat music, but listening without seeing the band live robs you from a complete musical experience. They filled the Nectar lounge with unbridled energy and talent. Their 20 year anniversary tour is an impressive feat, but hopefully it is only one of the first of many milestones for Antibalas as they continue to play and tour together.

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