Fantastic Negrito is a lot of things: Musician, self-described recovering narcissist, two-time Grammy winner who’s likely to make it three in March. But more than all those things, he’s a world-class performer and showman. He’s at his best on stage in front of a crowd.
In his online show Saturday night, live from the Downtown Theater in Fairfield, he was on a stage for the first time in a long time. His previous pandemic streams were from his Oakland studio. On Saturday he had the stage but he didn’t have the crowd, and it felt like he wasn’t at full power without the fans in front of him.
“I call my music Black roots. Church music without the religion,” he said at one point. Church music just doesn’t have the same punch without the congregation. Additionally, as with most livestreams over the past 10 months, the songs lacked the visceral punch of loud music over a concert hall P.A.
Fantastic Negrito must have been tempted to play his new album, Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?, in its entirety since he’s not yet had the chance. He resisted, however, and played a solid mix of songs from his three albums and even one from his self-titled 2014 EP.
He opened the show with “Chocolate Samurai,” the first song off his latest album, followed up with “Bad Guy Necessity,” from 2018’s Please Don’t Be Dead, then came back to the new stuff with “Searching for Captain Save A Hoe.” While a surprise E-40 appearance would have been nice on the latter tune, it absolutely held up without the hip-hop legend’s verse.
After a couple of older songs, Negrito transitioned to “I’m So Happy I Cry,” off the latest release. On the album the song is a duet with Tank of Tank and the Bangas. This one, however, did lose firepower without her unique vocal style.
On newer cuts “These Are My Friends” and “How Long?” the time off reared its head most for Fantastic Negrito. Not that it was obviously noticeable.
“I messed up that second verse, but we keep ridin!’” he proclaimed. Of course, it was the first time he performed it on stage, so no harm no foul.
As he began his version of “In the Pines,” Negrito still hadn’t hit his groove. What’s usually a show highlight felt a bit off. But at some point during the song he eventually found his stride and, at least to this guy watching from his couch, it turned into a proper show. The energy picked up for what he called a remix of 2014’s “Night Has Turned To Day,” and by “Lost in a Crowd,” he was back.
The last four songs of the show—“A Boy Named Andrew,” “Your Sex is Overrated,” “Plastic Hamburgers” and “Bullshit Anthem”—were to his lofty standards. Negrito was feeling the music, the band was clicking and he was in the zone. It was great to get that feeling again, even if it was a digital replica in a strange time.
As the man himself said before the final song, “This was a bit turbulent, but that’s to be expected.”
For the time being, with the pandemic still raging and thousands dying every day, this is the best we’re going to get and it certainly takes the edge off a long, long lockdown. But it also makes one miss the real thing that much more.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.