Friday, January 22, 2010

The Brand New Heavies conquer not Manila

In 1997, high school chums George and Erwin went rummaging through CDs with me in a quaint NYC shop when George had an a-ha moment and snatched what he thought was the perfect find: SHELTER, the then latest album of acid jazz band The Brand New Heavies (BNH). Shamefully, I had not been acquainted with their work. But because he knew I had adored Incognito, George made a beeline to the cash register and convinced me to pull out my wallet.

I have not regretted purchasing the CD, and have in fact collected all the BNH albums before and after SHELTER. So you can imagine my elation when I heard that the group was Manila-bound last February. I was naturally among the first to get tickets to their show at the Westin Philippine Plaza.

My anticipation was high. After all, I had caught the Incognito show at the same venue two years ago, and had remained ecstatic months later. And with N'dea Davenport on lead vocals (others have taken on the role, with less success) for the concert, I was certainly pumped. But strangely, after the hour-and-a-half performance, I somehow felt let down.

Don't get me wrong. BNH delivered the kind of retro funk that was expected of them. The energy was high, and we were all on our feet. They performed all their classic and current hits with much bravado. All in all, theirs was a class act--but an act nonetheless.

Most of those who had been to the Incognito concert felt it too. There was a sincerity that was absent in BNH's performance--a missing willingness to connect. And while the songs were note-perfect, they execution seemed uninspired. In contrast, Incognito demonstrated a soulfulness that was not only felt in their complex strains and rhythms, but more so in the animated stories they shared behind each song, their electricity on stage, and their deep appreciation for the audience that stood mesmerized by their sound. All were borne out of a spiritual connection they acknowledged--one that they nurture amongst each other, with the music they play, and with the great Source of their talent.

So will I continue to add to my collection of BNH CDs? Why of course. My own work has been influenced by theirs, and that's not going to stop. But I suppose the show was a reminder of what music could be minus purpose.

Below, some of my photos from the show and two of my favorite BNH tracks, one classic, one current.

The incomparable N'dea Davenport steals the show with her delicious vocals.

Jan Kincaid manages to sneak in some lead vocals while pounding on the drums.

Andrew Levy brings on the funk with some signature slaps.

Ever the showman, Simon Bartholomew wows the crowd with fancy riffs and a flashy costume to boot.

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