ALBINO! | 05.03.09 | San Francisco

Words by: Nick Boeka | Images by: Jonathan Costello

ALBINO! :: 05.03.09 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA

ALBINO! :: 05.03 :: San Francisco
Rarely these days, do I find myself attending an event without preparation, completely devoid of expectations. Like most concertgoers, I tend to do a little research on the band I am going to go see, so even if it is my first time seeing them I can try to connect more with what is going on at the show. On this rainy Friday in San Francisco, I threw care to the wind and decided on an act whose name I see often but have not had an opportunity to catch before. When they describe themselves as an “Afrobeat ensemble that honors the fiery legacy of Nigerian musician revolutionary Fela Kuti,” they do not do themselves enough justice. I spent the entire evening surrounded by a capacity crowd at The Independent, dancing non-stop to great funk and jazz music by one of the most on-point and top-notch Afrobeat bands out there. If there was any doubt whether this particular genre of music is still alive, there is no denying the experience generated by East Bay’s ALBINO!

ALBINO! is a ten-piece band, which features a seasoned horn section comprised of Michael Bello (tenor sax), Chris Brown (trumpet), Patrick Byers (baritone sax) and Nathan Endsley (tenor sax). What struck me about these four is how each individually showed amazing talent during solos, able to stand alone but just as strong in the group setting. ALBINO! approached their sound in two pieces. The first focuses solely on providing a solid rhythm backbone, and the second uses that to springboard into the repetitive melody lines that define this type of music. Their rhythm section isn’t overpowered by the horn section either, with Julian Fritz on kit and Matt Smith on percussion the band is never going to be short of beat power.

ALBINO! :: 05.03
When I arrived at the venue, the opener Loyd Family Players had overtaken the stage with a mighty display of drums and dancing. I counted fifteen people onstage, ranging from hand percussion instruments to a row of large marching band style bass drum bangers, with the only melody, in the traditional sense of the word, produced by a few cowbells struck in syncopated rhythms. And despite the stark contrast between this and the headlining act, it was the perfect way to prime the audience for the rest of the evening. By the end of the Loyd set, the room had filled and was already fully engaged.

Before ALBINO! took the stage, I followed the instructions when purchasing my ticket and got it stamped for a free copy of their latest release, Peralta House. This evening they made sure it was abundantly clear that they want everyone to hear this album, and if you are a fan of Fela, Antibalas or The Motet you are going to dig it. One by one, the members took the stage, each adding a new layer until launching into “Yo(u) U(s) American Dream.” Throughout both sets guitarists Jacob Groopman and Cal Reichenbach proved their worth with incredible solo chops. But, in this style of music the real test of the musician is to play the same freakin’ line, over and over again, for eight minutes straight. It takes a lot of talent to “stay inside the box,” and this group’s talent screams at you from the stage.

Midway through the set, Kim Agnew took a break from her traditional hand shaker and used the drum jam to showcase some of the moves she’s picked up while studying with West African dancers and performing with other world music groups like Panjea. She shook her limbs and did tribal high steps, looking authentic the entire way. It was an effective way to give the crowd’s hips a break from the non-stop dance party. As she finished her routine, the rest of the band returned to the stage to take the audience into setbreak with “Jing Bongwa,” which really highlighted the strength of the horn section.

ALBINO! :: 05.03 :: San Francisco
At setbreak, Loyd Family Players made sure that the party kept going as they emerged into the center of the crowd to play a 15-minute jam encore. I stood in front of the big bass drum as long as I could before having to retreat to the bar to give my eardrums a break. And in a seamless transition from floor to stage, the music returned to the spotlight as ALBINO! began their second set with the first track on the new album, “Bade,” a softer instrumental, which, like on the disc, was used as a crescendo vehicle for the next series of tunes. The crowd continued to be engaged and responded well to solos from all members. Even bassist Kevin Blair got into the action, thumping out a strong series of lines through “Hmmm,” a song that makes you wonder, “What’s our voice worth?” Most of their songs, in keeping with the origins of their sound, have socio-political messages, even when being delivered in few words.

This group turned me around this evening, and I am thankful that they enjoy playing the Bay Area as frequently as they do because I won’t miss another opportunity to catch them. If you want to see a great band that is going to make you smile and move your body around while being surrounded with like-minded individuals also having a great time, then ALBINO! is the show you need to go see.

ALBINO! :: 05.03.09 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA
Set I: Yo(u) U(s) American Dream, Brown and Serve, P-Slap, Floating Nation, Peralta House, Everyone Has Answers, Jing Bongwa
Set II: Bade, Speak, No Face Enemy, Hmmm, Sweat, Steppin, On The Bus
Encore: Land

ALBINO! tour dates available here.

JamBase | Worldwide
Go See Live Music!