Anitbalas at Park West

Security, the new record by Antibalas – or if you prefer, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra – is one of my favorites of 2007 so far. Those who say the studio records by Antibalas are lacking something compared to the concerts don’t know what they’re talking about. To me, the record’s a perfect distillation of all the great sounds that make up this band – the punchy horns, those cool organ and electric piano sounds, the fabulous rhythm section’s grooves, the chant-like choruses. The songs tend to be long, and they go in unusual directions. I get the feeling that the musicians in Antibalas are giving in to the logic of the music. They’re letting it lead them wherever it goes without worrying about whether it will fit within traditional musical boundaries.

That said, they are also great in concert. I just don’t see the two experiences as appreciably different. Not surprisingly, Antibalas put on an exciting live show last night at Park West. It was great fun to see Duke Amayo leaping around exuberantly during the parts of the songs where he sings, then hurrying over to the congas to play his percussion parts. And Stuart Bogie looked like he was having just as much fun conducting the orchestra in between blasts on his sax. Those horns sound so strong – there’s a strong jazz influence on this group, though I’m guessing jazz purists wouldn’t think of it as jazz. Most of it is composed, though there are some improvisational jams, and the horn arrangements are built around angular melodies you don’t usually hear in jazz. Of course, it all sounds an awful lot like the music of Afrobeat founder Fela Kuti and his drumming protege, Tony Allen, but that’s all right with me. Fela’s music has really become more like a genre than a specific artist’s style, and Antibalas does an amazing job of bringing that music into the future, putting its own distinctive stamp on it, including a bit of a Latin vibe. Long live Antibalas!

…One more thought: It was a very young crowd at the the Antibalas show last night, including a fair number of kids who looked like jam-band fans, judging from the scraggly bears and other accoutrements. That left me wondering … just how did these people discover the music of Antibalas and get into it? It’s not exactly getting played on the radio, as far as I know. I’ve never been a big fan of bands in the vein of Phish, et al, but I do like the concept of long improvisational jams when they’re done right, so if people who like jam bands are discovering Afro Beat, that’s very cool as far as I’m concerned.

See my photos of Antibalas.

Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra at the HotHouse

SEPT. 8, 2005
The HotHouse

Antibalas sounded glorious all night long at the HotHouse, reviving the funky sounds of Fela Kuti  and driving them into the future with their own twists on the Afrobeat tradition. It’s a rare joy to see such a great horn section in action, and Antibalas also has one of the coolest keyboard players around, Victor Axelrod. Those solos on the electric piano are dynamite. It was also cool watching the guitarists and bassist getting into grooves that you just wanted to go on and on. Whether he was having his way with congos or leading the band (and audience) in a chant, Amayo was an entertaining frontman.

Make sure to check out the new EP, Government Magic, which has five very strong tracks. It’s for sale only at