Concert Review: The Very Best/Javelin @ DC 9 – 11/2/09
by Marcus K. Dowling
It’s truly the simplest of pleasures in the universe that evoke the greatest appreciation. It is by this statement that we define the success that was The Very Best’s completely sold out tour stop with Javelin at DC 9 on Monday evening. The Very Best, which takes the dark, gritty ghetto electro remixing of Radioclit and blends it with the, well, warm heart of Africa that Malawi’s Esau Mwamwaya brings to the table is an effusive blend that again, for lack of a better term, brings “the very best” out of the soul of the listener.
Opener’s Javelin nearly rendered the evening a half success. Occupying the slot due to a fantastic new wave remix/interpretation of The Very Best’s trunk funk anthem “Julia,” the 80s shlock celebrating, hipster trending, Brooklyn synth and sample remixing/DJ/performance duo certainly provided moments of fun and dance, but in being COMPLETELY ironic lose lots of steam from their very well crafted synth pop creations. In the midst of their opening set, the audience was treated to a retinue of video images culled straight from 1985, whether it be a man in an awkward tan sweater with Johann Sebastian Bach on the front explaining the craft of playing the synthesizer, to a “learn to breakdance” video, BMX bike riding on the roof of a suburban rambler, keytar images or manatee life in the Pacific, the entertainment value of the videos, while memorable, stole a lot of the impact from Javelin’s compositions. However, once the shock of the imagery wore off, near the end of their set, tracks like their breakbeat heavy remix of the theme for 8-bit Nintendo Mike Tyson’s Punch Out competitor “Soda Popinski,” as well as a breakdown over a track that took the chorus of Blondie’s “Rapture” into a recitation of childhood rhyme “Frere Jacques,” and a finale that ended with recitations of the chorus of Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopalicious” over an electro backing made for a very quirky, disjointed, but overall entertaining opening act.
Then, DJ Johan Hugo, two beautiful English based African dancers in lettermen jackets and traditional garb, and the overjoyed Esau Mwamwaya took the stage, and the event was transformed from mere concert to African tent revival. The Very Best is a simple concept that effortlessly succeeds due to stellar execution. Between 2008’s “The Very Best” mixtape, and the new Warm Heart of Africa release, there is certainly enough material present to create an exciting, dance friendly set that moves, grooves and removes all pretension from people, and culminates in a great time. Opener “Yalira” served as a vocal appetizer, as Esau Mwamwaya’s charmingly accented voice and Hugo’s production rained down upon a sold out crowd well acquainted with The Very Best’s body of work, and just waiting for the moment to dance as though hell’s demons were being set forth from them in an exultant manner. From there, we journeyed back to 2008’s starmaking and awareness inducing mixtape, with Mwamwaya’s take on M.I.A.’s now ubiquitous anthem of social freedom “Paper Planes,” which still, if even sung in an African tongue 90 percent of the crowd cannot understand, causes riotous debauchery.
But the highlight of the set is the album’s guaranteed hit, “Warm Heart of Africa” featuring Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. It’s a joy filled exciter, with such simple yet catchy African rhythms that it’s tailor made for acceptance from possibly slow footed and plodding Western audiences. As the song built to crescendo though, Radioclit stops the track to a noticeable gasp of shock from the crowd, and drops his remix of the track, an uptempo electro meets the Zambezi River like overflow of pleasant vibes that caused jumping, screaming, and movements in the female form that belied A-line skirts, prim and proper couture, or awkward hipsterdom, and turned the room into an earthquake of rhythm and very sexy and nubile undulations.
The Very Best’s set also included Africa by way of Crenshaw Swap Meet g funk love anthem “Julia,” which in front of a live crowd really spotlights the unique qualities of Mwamwaya’s Malawian-accented voice that makes the group the truly unique winner for 2010 that all expect them to be. Closing with their take on Vampire Weekend’s African themed and rhythmically tinged “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” was expected, though funky club killer “Rain Dance” with the aforementioned M.I.A. not being performed owes much likely to M.I.A.’s flow being responsible for 75% of the track’s vocals, which does not lend well to the live experience, which, more than anything serves as a backdrop for making Mwamwaya’s luckiest human in the world million megawatt personality and Hugo’s excellent production and remix talent to shine ever brightly.
In final, The Very Best present a live event. To refer to it as a concert would be to limit the effectiveness of the group in creating a perfect party atmosphere. In final, I take from this show leaving the venue, looking back on the stage at a bemused Johan Hugo, dropping remixed traditional African music to a room of people that had no desire nor intention of wanting to drink, wanting to fight, nor ultimately wanting to leave. They created the essence of the ultimate moment, and achieved the aim of what the group likely considers their perpetual goal…living up to their name.