When I first saw Antibalas at Bonnaroo in 2003, I was immediately impressed by their tight presentation of Afrobeat grooves. After seeing them again 2 years later, I remained a fan, but wondered about their staying power and ability to emerge from behind the long shadow of Fela Kuti and assert a fresher, more developed sound. At their album-release party (for Security), all doubts were laid to rest.
Opener "Binky Griptite and the Melomatics" got the crowd rolling with a funky, soulful set in the Charles Wright vein. Packed tight, the crowd erupted as the band took the stage, opening with a partial “Hilo,” and shifting swiftly into “Filibuster,” arguably the centerpiece of the new album. Saxophonist Stuart Bogie pushed the pace with his typical frenetic playing. Vocalist Amayo then strutted onto the stage in full make-up, assuming his usual spot among the band’s arsenal of percussion, then striding to the front to lead the band—and crowd—through a lively attack on the current presidential administration (a welcome theme that would be reinforced throughout the night).
As “Filibuster” wound down, Bogie counted off the beginning to “Beaten Metal,” the album’s tight, propulsive opener. Halfway through, they dropped into an actual beaten-metal jam, with each band member playing various pieces of scrap metal. More pointed political commentary followed with “War Hero” and “I.C.E.,” which featured a particularly vitriolic denunciation of Dubya, Scooter Libby, illegal wire-tapping practices and other shady government dealings.
Closing with the crowd-pleasing “Government Magic,” Amayo whipped the energetic crowd into a frenzy behind the blasting horns and raucous percussion. Walking out into the cool Williamsburg air high on plenty of Okocim lager and post-show afterglow, I was entirely pleased with the performance of what promises to be a must-see live act for many years to come.