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Kwes w/CHLLNGR, Beacon
Monday, March 19
Better than: A four-day SXSW hangover.
Making the transition from remixer and producer to full-fledged solo artist usually takes a career worth of self-doubt, external prodding and personal development. Just a couple years after reaching prominence as an experimental studio whiz and dutifully tinkering sonic soldier, and having collaborated with the likes of The xx, Micachu, Leftfield, and Damon Albarn, the English musician Kwes bounded quickly for jurisdiction over his ascending musical destiny. His blooming future was evident in his first New York solo show, despite it being a bit ragged around the edges.
Kwes’s solo work has the right combination of ego and insecurity to lure listeners into his lush, sentimental world. His new material is a definite shift from the breakneck adventures and elegiac romps that made up his 2010 EP No Need To Run—most notably, he sings on Meantime (Warp), due out later this month. His gentle voice is spry yet meditative, wise and urging—its deep, sonorous expression sits somewhere between Hot Chip’s Alexi Taylor and TV on The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe.
Kwes’s voice is as nuanced as the flourishes and layers he puts down in the studio, but at Cameo it often got lost in the wash of sound. In one recap of a Kwes set at SXSW, the reviewer mentioned how his vocals sat loudly and perhaps too prominently over the mix. Last night was the opposite; his hushed singing did not always frame and augment his grooves as much as it does on his recorded work. During “Get Up,” Kwes’s most recent single, there was one point that seemed to lose track of any melodic intentions. But Kwes has hardly played 10 shows on his own, and given his finesse at micro-tweaking both his own and other musicians’ sounds improvements on that front shoul be coming.
Not surprisingly, his poise as a vocalist was most discernable during the performance of his 2009 single “Hearts at Home.” The buoyant, foreboding snap of tubular drums and the high, chiming synth and sampled glockenspiel lines provided a delightful contrast to Kwes’s expressive vocals as the song building with alternating moments of repose and ascension.
The band was cohesive, thanks to Georgia Barnes’s focused stomp and Kwes’s lead-filled propulsion on the bassd. The group’s cacophonous introduction that unfurled like a scorned and vengeful orchestra, and the music that followed was pointed and direct, yet in possession of an unpredictable air. During “No Need to Run,” Barnes’s punctual, up-tempo grind was constant, even as the music swayed from ethereal to aggressive, while Kwes’s bass playing veered from tempura-thin crackle to beer-battered death fuzz, its squalling low-end frequencies shaking the little venue. Once the confidence of his playing seeps into his singing, Kwes will likely come into his own as a frontman.
Critical bias: I had to explain to several friends that I was not going to see an un-announced Tribe show after speaking about the “Kwes” concert I was going to attend.
Overheard: “Let’s all have a drink together after, shall we?” Kwes, going over his post-show plans from on stage.
Random notebook dump: Kwes’s soft-spoken dialogue with the crowd was wide-eyed, funny, and charming. And unsurprisingly, he’s already fallen in love with Brooklyn.