The Foreign Exchange Fitzgerald's June 27, 2014
Fitzgerald's isn't known for outright soul revivals on a Friday night. Or any night, for that matter. The last one my father could remember when I let it be known I was heading there for some groovy R&B was a Hugh Masakela concert he attended solo back in the mid-'90s.
Friday night, Fitzgerald's felt cool, in all senses of the word. The atmosphere was rich enough for twenty- and thirtysomethings to have some equal footing in terms of loving and appreciating music. Nobody looked as if they had a stress to worry about or a care to harp on. That's probably because Phonte, front man of The Foreign Exchange, told us all to leave that shit at the door.
I've seen Phonte now in two elements. Technically, three if you consider him wisecracking and enjoying tarts backstage at Warehouse Live. The rapping Phonte, the one beloved by everyone who was 25 years old (and a bit older) and loved both Little Brother and Phonte's solo work, played Warehouse in 2012. The soul man Phonte, the one who leads The Foreign Exchange in earnest, has fun riffs on house and R&B records from yesteryear -- that's the one who played at Fitz Friday night. Even if they are the same person, their demeanors are considerably different.
"When I checked in at the hotel, I was told it was 6/27!" he laughed to a roaring audience. So began the band playing up to the Houston crowd with near-gospel-like remixes of Three 6 Mafia's "Sippin On Some Syrup," DJ DMD's "25 Lighters" and Lil Troy's "Wanna Be a Baller" at different parts of their near-two-and-a-half hour set. That's the endearing thing about The Foreign Exchange. They perform like a family, a bunch of talented badasses who treat every night like a talent show, trying to outdo one another.
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Ten years ago, it looked like Phonte just crafted an offshoot with Dutch producer Nicolay. The result was a hybrid called Connected. Now the two are four albums in offering a mature look at relationships, getting down, breaking up and making up and then some. Friday night they toyed with fans playing tracks from each of the four releases, the bulk of the set coming from 2013's Love In Flying Colors. Songs like "Call It Home," "If I Knew Then" and "Right Around Midnight" bled into riffs on Sade's "Smooth Operator" and Robin S.'s "Show Me Love."
At one point, nobody held up a cellphone to record anything, but just danced and moved within the groove.
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I found myself amused, laughing as if I were at a comedy show as Phonte toyed with the anecdote of singing to your woman to show her you mean business. "You can't sing her no loverman shit, you have to sing the most vulgar sexual shit you can think of," he said.
Which then led to a song about titty-fucking. Which then led to the crowd of men in the room all thrusting their fists up like the soldiers in 300. It makes for a far greater appreciation of paying for a concert ticket. You pay to see a show, and that's Phonte, Nicolay, keyboardist Zo!, Carmen Rogers and more straight-up and down deliver.
By the time it was over, 9:30 p.m. had became midnight. Nobody seemed tired or even agitated about waking up the next morning. They still were changing for a second encore. Or even more Connected material. Satisfaction, of the ultimate variety.
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Personal Bias: I've been a Phonte/Foreign Exchange/Little Brother fan since 2002. That's 12 years deep in fandom for one talented individual. Plus, a +FE show equates to romance you aren't getting at, say, a Trey Songz show.
The Crowd: Grown, eager and appreciative fans of progressive R&B and soul records. Better yet, FEW OF THEM RECORDED THE WHOLE SHOW!
Overheard In the Crowd: "YEAH, FUCK THEM YOUNG FOLK!" This was in response to Phonte telling the older people in the audience that the youth couldn't monopolize "the turn up." The Turn Up at 35? Watching Netflix. Didn't hurt that the same dude who said this sounded like he came straight off the set of the original Shaft.
Random Notebook Dump: I had to thumb through my own mental rolodex in attempting to think of a better show I'd caught in 2014. OutKast in Alabama was No. 1, this had to be at least No. 2 or 3.