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[phlipcam video] SBTRKT + Willis Earl Beal @ the Paradise

It's impossible to not move at a SBTRKT show. Trust me, I tried. Just last night, in fact, as I showed up to a sardine'd-the-fuck-out Paradise, more prepared to slink around the back of the venue than I was for the eventual adrenaline bump I would receive. I hadn't slept well Tuesday night, worked a full day yesterday, and wanted to lean right up against one of those obtuse poles, close my eyes, and take a quick five.

My sluggish demeanor was quick to shed however, once the fledgling Brit producer and his frequent collaborator Sampha took the stage, adorning odd blindfold-like cover-ups on their foreheads -- no doubt an homage to the full-scaled tribal mask that has become his forte. Not too long into their set, it became clear why they kept their costumes light. The two bounce around -- a lot -- whipping each song up from a bare-bones drum kick into something altogether different.

Here's how it went down: they'd trigger a pre-programmed beat, then SBTRKT would jump on the drums, building to a distant peak before Sampha would cut in with his sultry croon, and I'd start simultaneously melting and shimmying like I'd just found love on the dancefloor. Then they'd chop the music into a million glimmering diamonds and SBTRKT would tweak the theremin (yes, they had a theremin) and I'd spin around in half-circles and lose my shit.

And as much as I'm sure they like to consider themselves a team package -- SBTRKT even ended the night by pronouncing "we're SBTRKT" -- it was really the Sampha show. Despite the fact that the highlight in regards to room energy was "Wildfire" (a song he doesn't feature on), he still managed to make the night his own, in terms of both stage presence and delivery. If we lived in a country that had some semblance of a mainstream R&B scene outside of "bubblegum" territory, I'd say he's poised to blow. But alas.


On the opposite end of the R&B spectrum was the night's opener, WILLIS EARL BEAL. Neither sultry, nor shimmering, the Chicago singer-songwriter came across as downright testy, even going as far as to implore one audience member calling for SBTRKT to "shut the fuck up." His backstory is what initially roped me into his music, and his recently released debut is sufficiently bizarre, but at least to me, this seemed like a case of a misbilling. Perhaps the most egregious I've ever witnessed. They share the same label and that's probably to blame, but his tape loops and billowing howl went nowhere in a room mostly packed with college kids eager to get down. Something goes right, something goes wrong, I suppose.

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