WRITTEN BY: HEATHER DEWAAL
On February 16, Ardmore Music Hall freshened the glum of the month with Antibalas, who brought with them a night of warm jazz and dancing, a stark contrast to the frozen air outside.
Although Antibalas was the long-awaited headliner of the night, Fresh Cut Orchestra, the local band that opened for them, jump-started the ambience for Antibalas with their snazzy, improvised jazz rhythms drawing dozens of people to the dance floor. Their good-natured energy and complex mix of instruments set the stage for the globally renowned Antibalas to kick the hall up a notch.
A Brooklyn-based band, Antibalas (or “Bulletproof”) has almost two decades of tuning their music to the audience in order to fashion an unforgettable experience, with grooving jazz and Afrobeat rolling into one another, seemingly without beginning or end. Their latest LP, Antibalas, features all of their signature sounds and evolving rhythms, but the band played many old favorites as well. Trumpet and guitar, congas and trombone, meshed together as one complex, united front. Through their vibrant music, Antibalas surrounded their fans in a three-dimensional aural atmosphere, something so infectious that it felt impossible to want to leave.
“Who here is feeling love?” asked lead vocalist Duke Amayo as he alternated between drums and microphone. The crowd cheered in response, swaying and dancing with partners, friends, and family. Amayo then began to sing songs about love and affection, encouraging the audience to join in on the choruses. This, too, is a feature of Antibalas, their effortless way of charming responses from others, transforming their audience from casual observers to eager participants.
Love, in honor of Philadelphia and February, rolled into other themes presented by the band. An old favorite, “Government Magic” had the audience enthusiastically repeating “abracadabra” back to Amayo, which then evolved into a song about relationships. Themes of relationships shifted to creation and then money and life. “We’re at a crossroads, America,” Amayo announced, after finishing a song about home. Judging by the response, the audience seemed to agree, the music and drinking removing the burden of inhibited body language and words, allowing themselves to feel a bit freer in a cozy venue in Ardmore.
Antibalas solidified their standing as extraordinarily talented, world-class performers, able to make new fans wherever they go thanks to their energy, relatable ideas, and diversity.