Brother Ali. Photo: Jonathan Mannion
After circumnavigating the clusterfuck at the door and having my purse searched twice, I enter Urban Lounge. The venue is packed, hot and humid, and it smells like sweat and onions. This show is sold out––on a Monday night no less. I hit the bar and while I’m waiting for my beer, I take a visual sample of the hammered look on people’s faces and feel bad for the bartenders having to make sense of people slurring drink orders at them. I identify the dudes on the stage as Homeboy Sandman and DJ SOSA, a tolerable duo until Sandman decides it’s necessary to intermittently yell into the microphone, killing whatever chance I have of hearing anyone for the rest of the night. The beats are decent, but somewhere during the overhyped free-flow poetry slam I get bored. I start practicing my C-walk and soon realize I’m stuck to the floor, probably for the night, so I make the best of it by making my sister laugh.
I manage to peel myself off the floor and meander through the snapback-cap clad crowd trying hard not to stand in one place for too long out of fear of refastening myself to the floor. Somehow, in the chaos and confusion of a sold out show I can very distinctly make out the sound of live horns stabbing through the chatter and belligerence at the bar. I’m reminded of seeing The Roots a few years ago at Harry O’s in Park City. My attention moves from the human Carhartt wall in front of me to the stage, and I see Brother Ali in all his blinding glory making his way to the mic. The room may be full of people, but it has somehow felt empty and lifeless until now. The spaces between bodies fill with thick bass and horns and everyone’s hands go up in the air––it must be because they just don’t care, but I feel I could use just a little more bass in my face.
Brother Ali's Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color album release and subsequent tour is the Minneapolis-based rapper's first full-length album since 2009's Us. The tour features Blank Tape Beloved as Ali's touring band–a group of awesome jazz and hip-hop musicians assembled for the Mourning in America tour.
The sound is just a little unbalanced and all I can see are the silhouettes of hands against the blue stage lights and Ali’s blinding white beard. The show opens with "Victory (Come Forward)!"––a very trumpet and trombone heavy, soul-infused shortened version of the original track from 2008's Shadows on the Sun. Flowing directly into "Stop the Presses," Ali doesn’t waste time between songs giving the audience instructions on what direction their hands should wave––he transitions from song to song flawlessly. The absence of the usual bullshit chitchat between songs creates and maintains that line of awe and respect between the audience and the performer, making Ali’s stage presence even more reverent.
After the kinks are worked out in the EQ and Brother Ali has the whole room bouncing, I watch a guy get escorted out and I think to myself, “It’s too early for that kind of nonsense.” I decide it’s time for a different perspective so I wade through what feels like a ball pit at McDonald’s full of plastic beer cups. The other side of the stage is a lot colder, but it also has better sound. I hear a sample of “Still” by Dr. Dre and the dance floor is awash with hands and beanies bouncing, and the smile on my face is from ear to ear. Brother Ali is owning the entire stage, which is packed with trumpet players, a DJ and a guitar player I didn’t even notice before. Ali moves from one side to the other with seemingly limitless energy. When they finally play the title track "Mourning in America," I notice that one of the trumpet players has been doing an interpretive dance to Ali’s lyrics––"murder, murder, murder, kill, kill, kill"––and I can’t help but laugh. It’s hard to tell how serious he is by his facial expressions, but I’m sensing he’s either having a heart attack or is just really into it and interacting with the audience.
During the last song, I make my way through the now dull crowd to the girls’ bathroom that has transformed into “The Bog of Eternal Stench” from the movie Labyrinth, and I decide it’s time to preserve my shoes and go. I attribute the glazed-over look at the end of the night to it being a Monday and the majority of the hip-hoppers really being 9-to-5ers who have an early morning ahead of them. Still, an awesome night at Urban Lounge.