The Foreign Exchange @ The New Parish

My second visit to New Parish was also my second sold out show, which says as much about the venue as the artist on stage. Though New Parish remains relatively unknown, as would be expected for a place not even two years into its existence, it nevertheless maintains a devoted cadre of audiophiles. An eclectic swath of Oaklanders came out on Tuesday night, and none was not disappointed with the show Phonte, Nikolay, and co. delivered.

The Foreign Exchange’s sultry grooves combine the best elements of hip hop and r&b, infused with a bit of folk melancholy and digital percussion, to create a broad palate of heartfelt music. In Oakland on tour promoting the release of “Authenticity,” Foreign Exchange met my musical expectations. Singing is by far my primary focus with all music, so my eyes and ears were glued to Phonte, group MC, for most of the two hour show. Formerly a rapper, Phonte was not deceiving himself when he decided to make the transition to r&b crooner.

I would not say Phonte has the most impressive range or the purest voice, but I certainly do not want to undersell his ability in the least. His delivery flows effortlessly and his voice always carries a swell of passion. I got the impression over the course of the show that he did not access his full vocal ability, and held back on the embellishments with which great r&b singers often take my breath away. It was not until the last 15 minutes that he let loose a bit more and hit several notes that warranted a raised eyebrow. Surprise is a great element of live performance. After an hour and a half of spectating, I usually have the whole thing figured out, but when a band changes gears near the finale and gives me something new, it can totally transform my impression of them. This was the case with FE at New Parish.

Up until that point, Phonte was a one man wrecking crew, with notable support from the extremely talented drummer obscured towards the back corner of the stage. The other six bandmembers – guitar, bass, two keyboards, and two backup singers – were unremarkable. Fortunately, Phonte alone offered more than enough charisma to carry the show, especially on old and new hits like “All or Nothing/Coming Home to You” and “Maybe She’ll Dream of Me.” At one point during the show, the MC got carried away with a diatribe on love, hypocrisy, and Twitter. “Titties and Jesus don’t go together,” he insisted to the much-amused crowd. Phonte also implored us to “tweet for love,” and took pictures of cheering audience members.

The last segment of the show, FE kicked it up a notch with their signature song “Take Off The Blues.” I am probably safe in assuming that I was not the only fan in the audience whose first introduction to the group was the offering of that track as the “free download of the week” on iTunes almost three years ago. And thank god for that; iTunes and  Jesus do go together, it seems. The backup singers sang a little louder and exhibited a bit more spunk as the show progressed. Sy Smith took center stage for a song, and Jeanne Jolly held an impressive note for what seemed like thirty seconds during her own moment in the spotlight. The band ended the show with “Daykeeper,” probably their second best-known track, and “Don’t Wait,” an uplifting offering and one of my favorites off the latest album.

“I don’t know about everybody else but I’ll be taking advantage of the dance floor,” I tweeted before the show. I may have failed to follow through on that assertion, but compared to the rest of the crowd I was dancing heartily. I still do not understand why the New Parish crowd is afraid to move their feet, but if the place keeps bringing acts like the Foreign Exchange I will keep brushing off that irritation.

Check out video of Phonte introducing the band below, and then go listen to some FE recordings!

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