KNOWER 4.18.18

Portland, OR

Words & Photos by James Sissler

What would you choose if you had to decide between seeing a legendary performer and a new emerging talent? That is the predicament Portland's music fanatics found themselves in Wednesday night, with performances by Godmother of Soul Erykah Badu and internet funk sensation KNOWER happening within a 15-minute walk of each other. Like many others, I chose to try to make both.

Both concerts were part of Portland's Soul'd Out Music Festival, which has an incredibly stacked and broad lineup for 2018, including De La Soul, Tipper, Ghost Note and Zapp. The festival organizers seemed to try to make it possible to catch both Erykah Badu and KNOWER, scheduling one to start just as the other was set to end, but because Erykah Badu ended up taking the stage quite late, there was a bit of overlap.

Erykah Badu (with opener R+R=NOW, a jazz supergroup assembled by the legendary Robert Glasper) was by far the most highly anticipated show of the festival, and ticket sales reflected that. Even secondary ticket vendors like Stubhub sold out of tickets by showtime. I had only obtained a press pass for KNOWER, which is why there are no pictures of her set, but I decided to buy a ticket from someone at the last minute so that I wouldn't miss the opportunity to see her perform, and I'm very glad I did.

The combination of Badu's undeniable coolness and musicality with her ability to simultaneously lead a band and entertain a crowd is truly something to behold. The audience clung to her every word as she spoke between songs, offering life lessons, jokes and anecdotes, and even though it was a seated concert hall, there were moments when the crowd had to stand up and get down to the band’s heavy groove. She certainly belongs in the highest class of musical performers, and it would be a treat for any live music fan to catch a show, especially considering how rarely she performs these days. Unfortunately, though, I was forced to leave before the end of the set, which included songs from throughout her career and many of her biggest hits, because the KNOWER show would be well underway by the time she finished.

Those who rushed over to Dante's from Erykah Badu's show missed out on psychedelic soul outfit pigWar's opening set, but there was a whole night of great music still to come, starting with viral funk powerhouse KNOWER. If you haven't heard a lot of good things about KNOWER, you're probably about to. The group's founding duo of drummer/keyboardist/producer Luis Cole and singer/producer Genevieve Artadi have been releasing eccentric indietronica tracks and videos online for quite a while, but they've been making bigger waves recently after releasing a couple live session videos with a full band.

The first full band video to go viral was of a song called "Overtime," and it has now racked up almost a million and a half views on YouTube. It shows the band squeezed into what looks like a hallway, recording the track live in a home studio environment reminiscent of Vulfpeck's home studio videos. Indeed, the whole indie aesthetic of the video and its humor are very Vulfish, and it has been received with the same kind of excitement that boosted Vulfpeck to the eminent position they hold in the live music scene today, and deservedly so, since the production and musicianship are on par. The comparison with Vulfpeck really should not be taken too far, however, seeing as KNOWER developed their aesthetic over several years, long before Vulfpeck became popular, and because their sound is influenced much more by electronic music than Vulfpeck's low-volume funk. That being said, the KNOWER live band can throw down some serious funk, and they absolutely did.

There were a lot of Portland musicians and music nerds in the Dante's crowd, which was decidedly whiter and more male-dominated than the Erykah Badu audience. There was a sense of anticipation in the air, as if everyone was eager to see whether this new band was really as good as they're cracked up to be, and they did not disappoint. Between Luis Cole's drumming and Sam Wilkes's bass playing, KNOWER's musicianship visibly impressed the Portland crowd. Most of the band's showmanship was a little underwhelming, but they were redeemed by Genevieve Artadi's ecstatic jumping and dancing across the stage, which captivated the mostly male audience.

The band played most of their well-known songs, including "Overtime," "The Govt. Knows," "The Weird Part of the Night," and "Butts T**ts Money." Their set was tight and high-energy from start to finish, and the crowd seemed to feel it was everything they had hoped for by the end. There's no doubt that if KNOWER continues to play with the live band, they could grow to become one of the biggest acts in the live music scene just as Vulfpeck has, but they have a long way to go yet, and, given their roots in electronic music, that might not be the direction they wish to go. I sure hope it is though.

After KNOWER's set there was a late night set by RC & the Gritz, who is Erykah Badu's backup band. The crowd seemed like it might start thinning out, it being a Wednesday night, but no one wanted to leave once the Texas-based foursome launched into their funky fusion of hip-hop and R&B. Founded by RC “Rceeezy” Williams (keyboards/vocals) and featuring Cleon Edwards (drums), TaRon Lockett (percussion), and Braylon “Brother B” Lacy (bass), the band strikes a balance between technical ability and soul, as one might expect of Erykah Badu's band. Their late night set was not as momentous as their earlier performance backing up the Godmother of Soul, of course, but it was a solid performance that kept the feet moving and the booties shaking ‘til the wee hours of the morning.

Portland was all boogied out after a long night of don't miss performances thanks to Soul’d Out Productions. Wednesday was only the start, though. The festival ran through Sunday with a mix of new and classic artists performing throughout the city every day. Maybe try to stick to one show at a time though!

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