Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
The Fantastic Negrito (Negrito for brevity), whose real name is Xavier Dphrepaulezz, opened last night for Chris Cornell at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore. I understand why Mr. Dphrepaulezz may go by a pseudonym. That name is hard to pronounce and hard to remember. Fantastic Negrito is much easier to say and not easily forgotten. The name has almost a super hero quality to it. Fantastic Negrito definitely lives up to his name and maybe even surpasses it. Is deity too strong a word? Maybe, but I am still debating.
It is rare that you see someone without really knowing their material and you immediately connect with the artist and all of the songs. I remember it happening one time when I saw Smashing Pumpkins before they blew up (props to you, Larry L!). I had that same jaw dropping feeling as I did last night. The feeling that this guy is going to be large. To quote from the movie Fear of a Black Hat, “He’s gonna be so large, they’re gonna call him Dinosaur!” I liked all of the songs instantly and loved the performance. The Fabulous Negrito is electric and dynamic. He was playing last night without a full band, in fact, he was playing an acoustic guitar. He used the keyboard for one song he called “Rant Rushmore” which I will get to later. It was Negrito on stage with Tomas Salcedo (Negrito calls him “The Chilean), also armed with an acoustic guitar.
When you think of two people on stage with guitars, you probably think folk music. You would expect something very quiet and soothing. Au contraire. Negrito and the Chilean are anything but. Negrito has a strong powerful voice that compensates for any imbalance in instrumentation. In fact, his voice and playing are so good, that you can really focus on him and the music without a full band to distract you.
Negrito’s themes that he sings about are quite serious: homelessness, loneliness, poverty, loss, and inequality. Although these topics could be quite depressing, Negrito’s songs are songs of hope with an underlying theme that things will get better. He has convinced me. The purpose of music and performance is to be a temporary escape from the trappings of life. Negrito helps you escape and forget. Forget about your problems, not him or the music. In fact, I was problem free last night during his set. I was thinking about nothing else except Negrito and his energetic performance.
So enough of the preamble, let’s get to brass tacks: the performance. Negrito opened with a song off of his new album Last Days of Oakland, Working Poor. The song, as the title suggests, is about the “have nots”. People that work so hard but can never dig out of the hole they’re in. Negrito belts out the chorus. “I keep on knockin’ but I can’t get in”. The next song was written about Negrito’s time spent in a 3 week coma after a terrible car accident called Night Has Turned to Day (see video here). The next number was In The Pines. You know the last song Kurt Cobain sang on MTV Unplugged? Yes, that song. Well, Negrito said he wasn’t good at doing covers, but he lies. He did this song justice and made it his own. Even in the esteemed company of Cobain and Leadbelly. Negrito joked that he added a bridge to the song, which Leadbelly would never approve of. I disagree. I think the bridge, which is almost a gospel accent, is beautiful. It adds a very nice element.
Negrito described himself as a “strange black kid” liking David Bowie and Prince and wearing leopard skin boots through the streets of Oakland. You can definitely hear Prince and Bowie on the next number. Not only them, but I also hear some Queen. Rant Rushmore is normally a very funky upbeat song. The link to a performance with a full band is here. The performance last night was just Negrito on keys and The Chilean on acoustic. The rendition was not quite as energetic as the full band one, but still inspiring. Again, Negrito’s vocals made up for any missing instruments.
My only complaint is that it was too short. I was left wanting more. The whole crowd wanted more. Negrito could have played another hour and no one would have minded at all. I am guessing the performance was about 40 minutes, but it seemed like it was over in the blink of an eye.