Fantastic Negrito confronts issues with hope

Check Fantastic Negrito tonight at Cohoes Music Hall (58 Remsen St., Cohoes); our own (Delmar reside
Xavier Dphrepaulezz of Fantastic Negrito
Xavier Dphrepaulezz of Fantastic Negrito

Want — need?! — an antidote to campaign-crazy? Check Fantastic Negrito tonight at Cohoes Music Hall (58 Remsen St., Cohoes); our own (Delmar resident) Bryan Thomas opens. Both artists make big, bluesy, brilliant Prince-sounding music as fiercely timely as early-’60s folk-advocacy Dylan; serious as a heart attack, but brightened with hard-earned humor and hope.

Fantastic Negrito is the band/project alter ego of Bay Area (and former resident of Massachusetts where he was raised a Muslim) Xavier Dphrepaulezz, who first made music as Xavier.

Fantastic Negrito’s fantastic album “The Last Days of Oakland” holds a crystal-clear mirror and a funky megaphone up to current national torments/issues of race, violence and economic/opportunity inequality as symptoms he sees in moral terms. He erases, he dances past, divisions among people with bold blasts of inviting, compelling sound.

First inspired by Funkadelic’s dancefloor beat cosmology, he learned — like Prince — to play many instruments. Stylistically, he has progressively reached further and further back, through trauma. Dphrepaulezz lost his brother to gun violence at 14.

Blues study break

Nearly killed in a car crash himself, one hand immobilized, Dphrepaulezz spent a five-year hiatus from recording in studying bluesmen including Delta masters Robert Johnson (1930s), Skip James (1930s-’60s) and D.L. Burnside (1990s) and stripping down his own sound. “In the Pines” — a scorching back-to-basics modern blues song and video — pays tribute to mothers who buried their gun-killed sons.

The response has been deservedly rapturous. Slate reported “Last Days of Oakland” is “The greatest music we’ve ever heard,” while the Times of London hailed “the compelling brilliance of his new album . . . an artist of fierce originality and charisma.” The New York Times dubbed him a “whimsical vocal acrobat,” and NPR Music found the album “full of subtlety and sophistication, along with the kind of scars that only a survivor can flaunt.”

Fantastic Negrito won NPR’s first-ever Tiny Desk Concert Contest with “Lost in a Crowd,” and he played both “Lost” and “Good Enough” on the season finale of the Fox TV series “Empire.”

He told NPR that, “The ‘Fantastic’ is self-explanatory; the ‘Negrito’ is a way to open blackness up to everyone, making it playful and international.” Onstage tonight at the Cohoes Music Hall, Fantastic Negrito is Xavier Dphrepaulezz, guitar and keyboards; Tomas Salcedo, guitar; Nathan Pedley, bass; DaQuantae “Q” Johnson, drums; and Jayvyn Williams, keyboards.

Enter bryan thomas

The ambitious, universal way Fantastic Negrito addresses his themes, with wide-screen vision but street-level specificity, means the album could almost be called “The Last Days of Albany” because those problems live here, too. But that’s where Bryan Thomas comes in.

Like Fantastic Negrito, who plays many instruments on “Last Days of Oakland,” Thomas is kaleidoscopic. His latest release, “Basement Live” collects music videos recorded live in his home studio with a band that includes multiple versions of himself.

And like Fantastic Negrito, Thomas is the much-honored bard of his city: Best Male Singer-Songwriter (Times Union 1999, for his “Radio Plastic Jennifer” debut release, the first of eight) and Album of the Year winner (Metroland 2002, for “Ones and Zeros.”). 8 p.m. $32, $26. 465-3334


Longtime favorites return to the Low Beat (335 Central Ave., Albany) this week: Peter Case tonight, Walter Salas-Humara on Saturday, and Hamell on Trial on Wednesday.

Case discovered Woody Guthrie at the Albany Library in 1970 after staying in a homeless shelter here during a blizzard on a hitchhiking trip. He played here often with his power pop band the Plimsouls, including at SPAC in 1983 opening for the Tubes, and he’s played our smaller venues solo for years. Tonight, he celebrates the 30th anniversary of his solo debut album. 7 p.m. $15. 432-6572

“Rocking out at Albany’s finest music venue,” wrote Salas-Humara on his website of Saturday’s show, announcing this tour of house and small venue shows. “Love this place,” he added, proving it by playing here at least once a year. Salas-Humara’s down-to-earth folk-lyrical, rock-groovy music fits the Low Beat perfectly. His 22 albums, solo and with the Silos, are available as you-price-it downloads from his site. 7:30 p.m. $15

Hamell on Trial continues his month-long residency on Wednesday. A fierce former Syracuse rocker and prolific artist – he wrote and recorded a song a day for a year after his 22-year marriage broke up – Hamell trained as a solo artist here, mentored by Jim Gaudet, before being discovered in Austin and launching a string of boldly candid albums. On 12 albums and onstage, he turns himself inside out to both comical and poignant effect. He’s loudly, proudly, one of a kind. 7 p.m. $10


Like Hamell on Trial, Martin Sexton hails from Syracuse; also like Hamell, he’s a compelling solo performer. Sexton sings at The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) on Friday. His website presents a solo cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain” — Sexton perched in the stern of a rowboat, his voice and guitar seemingly operating like an outboard motor. Sexton’s new album “Mix Tape of the Open Road” offers both reach and depth, plus the momentum of a free-rolling fun romp behind the wheel. 8 p.m. $34.50

Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]

Categories: Entertainment

Leave a Reply