Unlike Lauren, I suck at getting out to live shows around the city. Lovelovelove live music, but I average a show or festival every three months maybe. I do, however, now live with a Berklee College of Music grad, which seriously helps the cause.
On December 18th, said roommate——also one of my best friends—and I went to the Middle East in Cambridge to cap off my fairly mediocre semester with a great show. The opening band, Novi, was completely new to me and such a surprisingly remarkable find. The Boston-born band describes itself on its website as being a hub for all sorts of experimental, artsy entertainment, but we’re just going to put whatever that means aside and focus on their music. Made up of two vocalists and keys/producer man, Jakob Rabitsch, Novi reminded me of The Neighborhood combined with Marian Hill combined with Alice Smith. Lead male vocalist, Adam Halliday, embodies the whole West Coast pop-punk thing. Paired with Rebekah Samarin’s soothing voice, the duet have a sometimes steamy, sometimes tender chemistry. [And from what I observed of them after the show, the two seem to legitimately be in love. It was kinda adorable.] Novi manages to fluctuate between these suave, R&B songs to sensitive, stripped down ones with impressive smoothness by consistently sounding soulful. Immediately after the show, I searched for them on Spotify, which in my book is the mark of a successful performance. Sadly, they’re not yet on Spotify, but their music can be found on SoundCloud!
Now, I don’t want to be slamming local bands so I’ll just say next a white guy rapped the Fresh Prince theme and you can draw your own conclusions about that set from this.
So the reason we ended up at this show was because last December, this roommate/best friend of mine invited me to see one of her Berklee friend’s senior shows. An abbreviated version of drummer Andrew Ellington’s band put on an abbreviated set in the Red Room at Cafe 939. Later that day, the full band, Viva la Hop, played the downstairs of Middle East, which we also went to see. Composed primarily of Berklee students, the 10+ member band is a jazz- and funk-infused hip hop group. Their hit song, ‘New Breed’, centers around the line, “This is a new breed of animal”, and if you ask me they’re not wrong. When we saw them last December, they were good: compelling and new sound, catchy and clever verses, solid stage presence.
When we saw them this December, though, there was a noticeable improvement. Since last year, they’ve toured fairly extensively down the East Coast. And the work has paid off. Viva la Hop are still touring on their same debut album (this one is available on Spotify!), but their live performance has gotten even better. With the band’s sizeable Boston following, the downstairs of the Middle East was packed with eager friends and fans. And Viva, as they should, took full advantage of this.
The actual performance of the songs—the work of two rappers, a horn section, a drummer, dude on bass, dude on guitar, plus a guy killing it on the keys—you can tell, they now do with enthused ease. Lindsay Lucas (Iva Kostic on the album) comes out to serves some sassy female vocals; ‘New Vibe’ is probably my favorite featuring her. They’ve found their footing with the songs and now are making their show an experience. Interacting with the audience, they’ll get in your face, have you shouting along with them, and certainly not let you sit still for any part of the act. Rappers Baylen Hernandez and Philip Galeota are not only confident in their words, but also clearly enjoy hosting a good time—Baylen’s smile might actually be infectious. And keyman Deshawn Alexander’s solo was seriously phenomenal. I liked this band the very first time I saw them in the Red Room. More so, I’ve loved watching them master their own music, which is innovative and exciting in its own right, and put on a pretty much flawless show.
These bands are just a peek at the Boston alternative hip hop scene, but it’s looking quite good to me. Both these young, emerging artists are challenging the definitions of their genre (cc: Lo’s last piece). Especially with Viva la Hop; if you ask me, there’s something really special about going to a hip hop show and, instead of watching one guy and maybe his producer walk onto the stage, seeing a big band break out, interact with one another as they play, and have a visibly good time. Here, in Boston, we get to call them ours. But I have my suspicions they’ll get around.