Black Blondie and M.anifest at the Triple Rock: A house full of love

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by Jay Gabler | 4/18/09

Minnesota hip-hop may have yet to define a sound for itself, but maybe the sound of Minnesota is less a sound than a mood: overall, we’re feeling pretty good. From Brother Ali to Tou Saiko, we seem to have more than our share of happy hip-hoppers. Sure, we can muster a little righteous rage when it comes to politics or social justice, but in general, Twin Cities MCs seem to believe in the power of positive thinking.

front row seat is the blog of jay gabler, the daily planet’s arts editor. to keep up on the local arts scene, follow artsorbit on twitter and subscribe to arts orbit weekly.

Last night at the Triple Rock, I caught M.anifest for the first time, and my impression was: wow, he’s one happy dude. Bearing witness to his African origins in song and dress, M.anifest was full of smiles as he bubbled through a bouncing set. Even when he urged us to thrust our (predominantly alcoholic) drinks in the air, it wasn’t to celebrate crunkness: it was to toast the coming of a new and brighter day. He was flanked by a DJ and backing singer, both of whom were pitch-perfect—not just musically, but in the way they managed to be appropriately spunky without upstaging the main attraction.

Further evidence of M.anifest’s good manners was the fact that he frequently paused to pay tribute to the night’s headliners, Black Blondie; at one point, he even refused to continue his set until he heard several specific Black Blondie song titles called out at high volume. What a gentleman.

The Triple Rock show was also my first experience with Black Blondie, who packed the house for the release of their new album Do You Remember Who You Wanted To Be. It’s no wonder they’ve found the success they have; I don’t know why no other act of note has ventured so boldly into the undiscovered territory between Tori Amos and Nelly Furtado. It was a privilege to see them at such close range, but their sound might actually be better-suited to a larger, calmer venue like the Varsity (larger) or the Kitty Cat Club (calmer), where listeners could focus on their tough but intricate soundscapes—the toughness coming especially from astonishing bassist Liz Draper, whose supreme confidence on her instrument seems to help her resist jazz-rock’s wicked temptation to overplay—without worrying about dodging elbows and unsticking sneakers from beer bogs on the floor. Fortunately, it seems inevitable that Black Blondie will soon be commanding whatever venues they please.


Photo by France Barbeau, courtesy Black Blondie.

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