Monday, 22 October 2007
Dancing in the Dark with Meshell Ndegeocello
Meshell Ndegeocello (that's how she's spelling it now, no apostrophes) is an established musician and songwriter who is still very much a mystery to a lot of us. Best known for her bass work and vocals with John Mellencamp on "Wild Night," she is much more than that. She's neo-soul, post-rap, recorded with the Stones AND Basement Jaxx, and has had her songs in films like "How Stella Got Her Groove back." She's a little bit down home and a lot big city, so when she played Harlow's on Sunday night, it was safe to assume that she'd play a bit of everything, and that it would be, at the very least, funky.
But Sunday night, she was more low-key mysterioso than brash entertainer. Tucked into an orange hoodie that she wore like a monk, she said barely a word. Because of a problem with epilepsy, Ndegeocello requests audience members to refrain from flash photography, but she went even further: the ban on lights extended so far that she and her four-piece band performed almost entirely in the dark, with only four faint blue lights backlighting the drummer and one guitarist. Ndegeocello herself was nearly invisible as she played bass and guitar, and sang and rapped, and her music barely broke a sweat until the encore, which rocked a bit more than what had preceded it.
Not that the preceeding was bad. Far from it. Evoking everyone from Jill Scott to Frank Zappa, most often reminicent of the avant jazz funk of Bill Laswell's Material, the music matched Ndegeocello's spectral presence. Though having two bassists (one in addition to Ndegeocello herself) tended to muddy up the heavy-low-range Harlow's system (bass traps, please!), the drummer was spectacularly good, and the two guitar players battled for the bottom, seemingly vying for who could say the most with the least notes. It was a refreshing change from most band dynamics, and while some were bothered by the obscuring darkness, to me it matched the trip hop vibe of the music.
The audience was a wonderful blend of styles and races, with touches of hip hop coolios among the college rock geeks and grown-up R&B fans, some of whom came up from San Francisco to catch the show. And they showed up on a Sunday night to see an important, if unpredictable, performer. We're glad we did, too.