The air conditioning at Antone’s was either on the fritz or set to ‘Bikram yoga studio’ Saturday night and the air over the crowd had a thick swampy feel for the sold out show by rapper and singer Jidenna, a concert that could have easily packed a much bigger room in Austin.
But that didn’t stop anyone from dancing, least of all the “Classic Man” who tore up his set while impressively rocking a three-piece suit for the first half.
A-LIST PHOTOS: Jidenna at Antone’s, 8.12.17
Emerging onto the stage in a furious grinder of afropunk, instrumental noise, he launched into a ballistic version of “Chief Don’t Run.” From there, he shape-shifted through the night, taking turns as blistering rhyme slinger (“Long Live the Chief”), booty club kingpin (“Trampoline”), surprisingly devastating lounge club singer (“Adora”) and, perhaps most importantly, the hymnal leader our aching spirits needed (“Bambi”).
Performing a few hours after a 32-year-old woman was killed when a vehicle rammed into a group of counter protesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, he unflinchingly addressed the situation from the stage. In a lengthy lead in to “Long Live the Chief,” a fierce tribute track he wrote for his father, a Nigerian academic, activist and entrepreneur who died in 2010, he said one of the valuable lessons the head of his family passed on was to be real and call things as you see them.
“Domestic terrorism is domestic terrorism and a white nationalist is a white nationalist,” he said, before going on to savage President Trump for failing to forcefully denounce white supremacists like David Duke who claim victory in the president’s platforms and policies. (You can see his full speech in the video above.)
He returned to the same theme later in the night, asking the audience to shout Austin’s signature slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” then explaining that he believes the thing right wing extremists are “most afraid about is weird people.” His audience was diverse not just in skin tone, he observed, but also in terms of “sexuality, different orientations.”
“Being peculiar is actually my power,” he said, explaining how his distinctive style made him stand out in a music industry that often favors homogeneity. It’s an important point to remember, he said, in these “strange and dangerous times.”
The implication was clear. Though the ghost of ugly America still haunts the nation, if diverse groups of people can come together and sweat, sing and dance it out with all our hearts, we can still feel hope. An active exorcism is in the works.