As the lights dimmed in Atlanta’s Buckhead Theater, James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” played overhead and members of Kamasi Washington’s band walked on stage and received a warm welcome from the audience.
Once Kamasi stepped on stage, we were all transfixed by his presence – immense, towering, powerful. The audience yelled and hollered and even I, being relatively new to his music, felt I was in the presence of a real demigod. In fact, Washington has been referred to as the “savior of jazz,” but he’s always been too humble to accept the accolade.
FlyLo and Thundercat have made a name for themselves as more electronic musicians, but Washington doesn’t feel the need to stray too far from traditional jazz. He’s emulated and expanded upon the music of his jazz heroes and proved that he can do it bigger and better than perhaps any other jazz musician at the moment.
I was blown away by the power and energy that Washington packed into his performance. I was expecting a relatively mellow night, but Washington and his band delivered super funky bass jams, an epic drum-off between his two drummers, and soaring vocals from his vocalist Patrice Quinn that got the entire theater dancing.
After a few songs, he introduced Quinn by saying “Patrice is one of the best singers I know. You can tell some people are good by the way they talk, but Patrice, she sounds amazing even when she’s cursing at you.”
After Washington introduced Quinn, she launched into the most powerful song of the set: “Malcolm’s Theme,” from Washington’s debut album, The Epic. The songs lyrics come directly from Ossie Davis’ eulogy for civil rights icon Malcolm X. The moving lyrics, paired with Quinn’s emotional, powerful, and beautiful delivery gave everyone goosebumps.
My favorite part of the set was when Washington’s stand-up bass player, Miles Mosley, played his incredible funk epic “Abraham.” I was blown away by Mosley’s ability to create such otherworldly and groovy sounds. Here is a link to a performance of Mosley’s playing “Abraham” that I suggest you all watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c73NCDr5ACo (skip to 3:30 if you’re limited for time).
After being mesmerized by Washington for almost two hours of free-jazz digressions and thoughtful, intricate pieces, I felt like I’d been to a different universe and back. Just like the legendary Pharaoh Sanders who I had the chance to see earlier this year, Washington’s music transcended all of us to another realm of experiencing. Washington confirmed that jazz can be as lively, engaging, and fascinating as any other genre, if not more so.
When I tell people FIDLAR is one of my favorite bands, they look shocked. The thought of a small basic-looking girl liking punk rock blows minds. But FIDLAR isn’t just like any punk rock band. Their tongue-in-cheek lyrics over heavy guitar riffs seems to be a product of their west coast skater lifestyle and embodies their acronym: “Fuck It Dog Life’s A Risk.” FIDLAR’s carefree but angsty attitude captures youth sentiment in a palatable way while touching on systemic issues that are reminiscent of early punk music.
I saw FIDLAR in D.C. after their album “Too” came out during my sophomore year of high school. My first punk concert was one of confusion, excitement, and fear. This can be said for all my girl friends that I have dragged into FIDLAR’s mosh pits. The mosh pit can be a dangerous place, especially for small girls. But honestly, if you aren’t moshing at a punk concert what the fuck are you doing.
The mosh pit is a place where people come to express themselves and confront emotional experiences as a community. Although I interpret FIDLAR’s lyrics as mostly sarcastic, they lay down some hard facts about social and institutional issues in America as well as reflect on personal struggles with relationships and drug abuse. These insights are usually buried in satirism, but never seem to be lost on the crowd. FIDLAR’s upbeat guitar solos and screaming chorus remind me that I don’t have to be alone with my problems. I’ve never felt so supported in a crowd of strangers than I have at a punk concert.
As soon as I saw that FIDLAR was on tour, I immediately raced to my computer to get a ticket and, with some bribing, took my friend’s truck down to the Gothic Theater in Denver with two other girls. We made our way to the front as the opening band Side Eyes jumped on. The pit immediately erupted into a sea of smashing shirtless bodies and flailing arms in response to the lead singers siren-like screeching. My friends and I looked at each other with a what-the-fuck-did-we-just-get-ourselves-into look as we watched a group of older kids hardcore moshing with fake blood coming out of their eyes and ears. This was just an opener. The energy mellowed out when the next opener, Dilly Dally, came on with an eerie ambience in the lead singer’s voice and bass guitar chords.The pit was still very much alive, but my guard was lowered as I soaked in the wailing chords and the most quintessentially girl punk screams ever.
The crowd started closing in as people on stage started tuning the arsenal of guitars against the pile of old TV’s on the stage. My friends and I agreed that we would try to keep our spot next to the metal gate at the base of the stage and mosh only if we were really into the song. This agreement was shortly broken after the guitar chords for “Alcohol’ emerged from the back of the stage. I felt the force of the entire crowd pressing on my back when the mosh pit began to push towards the front as Zac, Max, Brandon, and Elvis casually strutted onto stage. There was no introduction, just a small smirk from Zac, then an absolute explosion from the mosh pit as he began to sing FIDLAR’s hit song “No Waves.” I decided to abandon my post and join my people. I have never been in a mosh pit so chaotic; about 40 or 50 kids pushing and shoving each other so forcefully that it was common that groups of people would have to be picked up off the ground. I couldn’t tell if I finally found a crowd of true punk enthusiasts or a group of belligerently drunk men who needed to expel a lot of pent-up testosterone. Either way, I embraced FIDLAR’s acronym and assumed an athletic stance before throwing myself into the pit.
Mosh pits are generally a very male-dominated space because of the physical dangers as well as their stigma. It felt very empowering to occupy this space with other girls and completely own it together. I befriended a few girls when I was moshing who were also struggling with the combative nature of the pit. It seemed like the band picked up on this issue because right after I was forcibly separated from my friends, Zac grabbed the mic. He told the pit to create an aisle down the middle and then announced that the space created was for a girls-only mosh pit. I weaved through the crowd of skyscraper-sized men and jumped into our pit. We screamed and laughed and moshed the shit out of “5-9.” I gained so much respect for the people around me that night. I don’t want to admit how many times someone pulled me out of an uncomfortable place in a mosh pit or caught me when I was about to fall, but I would like to say how much compassion I felt by FIDLAR and their fans. Near the end of the show, I told a girl I met that I wanted to crowd surf FIDLAR, and next thing I know, her boyfriend had rallied a group of people to pick me up and sent me across the crowd. The gratitude I felt for that couple I met and the FIDLAR community while crowd surfing was indescribable.
The pit never lost steam, and continued to mosh even after FIDLAR ended their set. After a lot of screaming and pushing, FIDLAR came back on for an encore to perform “Blackout Stout” and then absolutely killed their final song. Zac ordered the pit to sit down on the floor so we were forced to sit on top of each other and quietly waited as the looping guitar riff introduction for “Cocaine” teased us. The pit burst to life as soon as Zac screamed the first lines: “you take Sally and I’ll take Sue/There ain’t no difference between the two.” Everyone emptied the rest of their emotions and energy in the pit with that song. I left the concert feeling like a weight had been lifted off my soul, but redistributed onto all my bruised limbs. Honestly, it’s worth the trade-off.
FIDLAR continues to be one of my favorite punk rock bands. Their emphasis on gender inclusivity aligns with the ideology of punk rock. I encourage everyone -especially women- to go to a punk concert and join its wonderful community of strangers at least once in life. The people that I have met in the pit become less like strangers and more like friends after sharing even a moment of moshing together. FIDLAR recently announced that their third studio album “Almost Free” will be released January 25. No tour dates or locations have been announced yet, but I am already looking forward to seeing them and the FIDLAR community again!
My old Kentucky home is the land of many of the world’s superlatives. The world’s greatest horse racing, the world’s best bourbon, the world’s most influential boxer, the world’s largest baseball bat, and also the World’s Best American Band, White Reaper. Both White Reaper and I hail from the same city, Louisville, unknowingly frequenting the same restaurants and music venues for years before I discovered them. They put out their first EP in 2014, three years before I would first register hearing their music, and four before I would meet them and grow to be a huge fan. I must admit that I have not been a fan of White Reaper’s for long, but nonetheless, their music has grown to become a significant part of my life.
My relationship with White Reaper’s music started on Record Store Day a year ago, when I was lucky enough to stumble upon a DJ set by the Wilkerson brothers, twins Sam and Nick, who make up the rhythmic section of the band. They play bass and drums, respectively and amazingly. That day I also met Tony Esposito, lead vocals and guitar, and Ryan Hater, who rocks harder than any other keyboard player I’ve seen live. (This experience left out Hunter Thompson, an incredibly talented guitarist who ironically has the same name as a Louisville icon though he is the only band member who is not from Louisville). At the record store I remember picking up one of their records from the “W” artist section, looking at the picture of the band on the sleeve, holding the record up to my face right next to the band members in real life, and doing a double-take. Within five minutes the record was purchased, I already had their signatures, and was engaged in conversation with the boys. From multiple interactions with the band members it is with ease and certainty that I can say they are some of the most genuine guys I’ve met in the music scene today. I acknowledge my bias as a fellow Louisvillian, but their onstage charm translates offstage as well. Their fan base is so dedicated partly because of how personable they are. They’re cool guys making cool music.
“The World’s Best…” is a title I would readily give them if they hadn’t already given it to themselves. Their second studio album, The World’s Best American Band, cements their self-fulfilling prophecy as one of the new, upcoming “greats” with tracks that rock, and don’t stop. Listening to the album I was immediately seduced by “Judy French,” as all other listeners are. Soon my favorite off their sophomore album became “Daises,” and before I had exhausted The World’s Best… I was already deep into their earlier tracks: first album “White Reaper Does It Again” (funny, right?) and self-titled EP. Fast forward a few weeks from the day I met them and all my “Spotify heavy rotation” tracks belonged to White Reaper—some personal favorites are still “Alone Tonight,” “I Don’t Think She Cares,” and “Tell Me.” Go a couple more weeks into the future and I’m getting whiplash in the front row at their concert.
Headbanging and moshing to White Reaper’s music is easy with their catchy guitar riffs, strong rhythm, and especially Esposito’s piercing and unique vocals. You can listen to any White Reaper track once and then be able to pick out Esposito’s voice again, that’s how unique and profound in a strange, ambiguous way he sounds. In combination with their recognizable sound, their stage-presence as some sort of self-proclaimed rock gods also entices and draws in a dedicated audience and fan base. Their energy is pure and contagious. They easily bring everyone to their feet—with songs like “The Stack” it’s impossible not to dance. In this song Esposito sings the truth, “If you make the girls dance, the boys will dance with them,” but White Reaper doesn’t need to make people move because the audience is already dancing. The songs on White Reaper Does It Again, though the production can sound fuzzy at times (something I think adds to the character of some of the more eccentric tracks, like “Friday the 13th”), end as strong as they start. Listening all the way from their first EP to The World’s Best… it’s fun to watch the band grow, gain members, and develop a sound that has potential to fluctuate, develop, and continue to excite. Saying I’m excited to hear new tracks from them in the future would be an understatement—their music makes me feel at home.
Strangely enough, of all the things to be proud of about my city and state, White Reaper is at the top of my list. I’ll never forget the first time I saw them live in Louisville—how genuinely proud I was to be a fan of their music, proud of the great Louisville music scene they’re helping to develop, and proud of them being great, compassionate people. From my new, small room in Colorado Springs, listening to White Reaper takes me back to Kentucky in the fall. While blasting White Reaper I’m driving fast around Louisville at night, hanging out with my friends, and feeling like I’m strong, opinionated, and on top of the world.
You can listen to White Reaper’s discography on this handy playlist I’ve made of all their songs on Spotify:
Khalid’s rise to fame has been slow and steady. His smooth sound and relatable lyrics make for versatile, chill music for a variety of settings. But apart from being solid background music, his most recent album, Suncity, shares some words of wisdom about his journey to stardom as well as the unpredictability of life that we can all relate to.
Unlike his first album, American Teen, which centered on Khalid’s relationships and teenage experiences with catchy but simple songs like “Saved” and “Young, Dumb and Broke,” Suncity’s abstract feel is more of a focus on instrumentals. Apart from “Saturday Nights,” with the chorus “all the things that I know, that your parents don’t” which echoes the angsty teen of Khalid’s previous album, Suncity tackles life’s obstacles in a way that all age groups can relate to.
Suncity begins with “9.13,” a short instrumental which concludes in Khalid being given the key to his hometown of El Paso, Texas, or as he calls it in American Teen, the city of the 915. In “Vertigo,” Khalid reflects on his rise to prominence in the music industry among other accomplishments in a whimsical, dubious way. After going back to his roots with the somber, moody teen passion in “Saturday Nights,” he returns to a more reflective vibe with “Salem’s Interlude.” “Salem’s Interlude” revolves around life’s obstacles that we all face as well as the struggle of which path to take. Through the interlude, Khalid invites listeners to step back and contemplate their direction and goals in the craziness that is life. “Motion,” my personal favorite song on the album, is the most unique and has a dreamlike quality. The album ends with a note of pop in both “Better” and “Suncity,” definitely the most radio friendly of the album. “Better” is catchy, romantic and overall average. “Suncity,” featuring Empress Of, expresses Khalid’s tie to El Paso and the community he grew up in, ending back where he began in an upbeat, refreshing tone.
All in all, “Suncity” is both a continuation of Khalid’s style and an example of his progression into a variety of lyrical and instrumental genres. After being featured in songs with artists from Halsey to H.E.R., I was pleasantly surprised to see Khalid’s old style and growth reflected in Suncity.