In an effort to bring together artists that defy genres and create unique worlds of music, Mdou Moctar and Bartees Strange kicked off a series of concerts programmed by Hanif Abdurraqib, Guest Curator-at-Large for BAM.
Entering the stage alone and picking up his guitar, Bartees Strange eased the crowd into his set by showcasing his angelic vocal range and delicate guitar work before he was joined by the rest of his band to launch into a killer set featuring rich pop, grooving R&B, and pulsating indie rock. Still running high from the success of the excellent Live Forever, Bartees put on a stunning show that displayed his wide range of talent and vast influences that make his sound something solely his own. Whether it's his rapping or emo-esque shouts, his ability to transcend themes and moods is something to behold. His band, which at times featured two additional guitarists, gave him plenty of space to really own the stage and connect with the crowd. He played some "brand spanking new" songs that gave even more texture and change-ups to his previous hits, but it was "Stone Meadow" and "Boomer" that got the crowd hooked. It's exciting to see an artist on the verge of something big and it feels clear that Bartees is on the cusp of greatness, ready to be a new leader and voice who refuses to fit any labels. An artist in the truest sense.
Following the incredible showing from Bartees, Mdou Moctar took to the front of the stage and formed a tight-knit line as they slowly dipped into contemplative acoustic rhythms. Almost like campfire music, the sounds echoed around the hall, the dryness of the melodies giving off a peaceful and serene vibe that felt communal despite the vastness of the auditorium. Electric riffs were the undercurrent to the more intricate fingerpicking of the hollow-bodied guitar that took center stage and the bass kept the rhythm in check over an easy bongo beat. It was intimate start that drifted off into the darkness beyond the stage, creating an idyllic headspace before what was to come next. When the drummer got up and moved behind the kit and the acoustic was trader for a Stratocaster, the band plugged in and turned things UP. Suddenly there were flashes of brilliant, swirling guitars that ricocheted off the walls with dazzling allure. It was a spectacular moment of incendiary, explosive music unlike anything I've ever seen or heard. As the band erupted into "Afrique Victime" and dragged it on for an out of this world jam that went on for ages, it felt like a truly splendid moment that felt infinite in time. A remarkable experience that could exist forever and never get old. Throughout the song, the drummer seemed to float above his kit, going off on fills that felt like they were always on the verge of spiraling out of control before being restrained back to the beat at the last possible second. His enthusiastic, powerful, and expressive delivery was an enthralling addition to the euphoric guitar assaults Moctar so effortlessly unleashed on the crowd. While waves of screaming electric guitar reverberated around the opera house, a low and steady bass careful kept the group together - at times it was astonishing, to me, that the group was able to never lose the beat through such eccentric and wandering solos - and always pulled in the others at precisely the right time. Relentlessly thanking the crowd, it was apparent how grateful Mdou felt to be at this moment in his career and his larger-than-life grin never left his face. The crowd responded with similar enthusiasm that perhaps only surpassed his own when he told everyone to stand on their feet in order to rock out to their massive sound. The encore was another rousing spectacle of massive, twisting guitar that felt like the audio equivalent of a prism radiating a rainbow or sparkle. Like a wizard, Moctar captivated their crowd through enchanting and spellbinding displays of sonic magic and used his talents for the best possible results. It was a transformative and radiant show that set a new precedent for what could possibly be in store for the band down the road. It seems to me, only greatness is on the horizon.