Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra

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Femi Kuti, son of Fela, headlines the House of Blues on Tuesday, but the Afrobeat pioneer's legacy is better served by Antibalas--while Femi delivers a bland and polished version of his father's music, this New York orchestra (whose membership hovers between 15 and 17) plays the stuff uncut. On its first two albums Antibalas crafted urgent but meticulous re-creations of Fela's raw sound--razor-sharp James Brown-style funk enhanced by dense polyrhythms and extensive improvisation. On their third release, the brand-new Who Is This America? (Ropeadope), they come off as innovators as well as inspired revivalists. The horns play a greater role than they ever did in Fela's bands--instead of providing only background stings and swells, they cut through the music like scythes and propel it with tightly contrapuntal riffs. (Bandleader Martin Perna's agile baritone sax in particular often sounds like a fuzzed-out electric bass.) The band also diverges from the usual hard-charging Afrobeat grooves to experiment with Santeria chants ("Obanla'e") and heavy dub effects ("Elephant"). On the furiously galloping "Indictment," the horns mutate the familiar Dragnet motif and an insistent tom imitates a judge's pounding gavel; at the beginning of the tune the lyrics call out most of Bush's cabinet by name, but they go on to add a much broader list of guilty parties, from Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky to our mothers and brothers. This crew is pissed about the state of the union, but they also understand the complexity of the problems--to one degree or another, we're all at fault. Antibalas has been touring constantly for the past four years, and it shows; as good as the new album is, it can't compare with the live set. $12 in advance, $15 at the door. Friday, June 11, 8 and 11 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

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