Music Park: Basement Jaxx @ 9:30 Club — 6/30/15

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Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton of Basement Jaxx (Photo courtesy Atlantic Jaxx)

Felix Buxton of Basement Jaxx centered a rare live show for Americans Tuesday night, standing on stage behind his impressive array of synthesizers as madcap music and melodies unfolded around him at the 9:30 Club.

Clad as a hip wizard of synth, Felix took the stage alone toward the end of the show for an instrumental break beginning with the track “Buffalo” from the most recent Basement Jaxx album, Junto — released last summer. His mix concluded with a flourish and Handel’s “Zadak the Priest (Coronation Anthem for George II)” as performed by the Ambrosian Singers. At this point in the show, I’m completely impressed and chuckling to myself at something I would consider a Pet Shop Boys-level of synthesizer style.

Only a few songs later, the London house maestro takes to the front of the stage to dance and sing out the lyrics to “Where’s Your Head At?” in delightfully frenetic fashion, closing out the main set of the Basement Jaxx show with the 2001 U.S. dance chart topper.

Watch Basement Jaxx perform “Where’s Your Head At?” at Sommerset House in London on July 21, 2013:

Felix didn’t get the audience grooving alone, of course! He was accompanied by his musical partner in Basement Jaxx, Simon Ratcliffe, who played guitar and synths.

Joining Felix and Simon were a rotating cast of up to eight singers and several other musicians. Indeed, the emphasis on vocals and the carefully selected variety of singers that sang along to the stomping tunes of Basement Jaxx are major ingredients in what differentiates the house act from other bands in their genre, who may be inclined to rely on too many bells and whistles. While the talented core duo certainly know their way around their instruments, a primary focus on vocal performance often gives their electronic songs a wonderfully organic feeling, no matter how complex the instruments might become.

And so lead singers Vula Malinga and Sharlene Hector often dominated the show with selections like “Do Your Thing,” also from third album Rooty (like “Where’s Your Head At?”). Vula and Sharlene frequently hand over vocal duties to others, such as with the song “Back 2 the Wild,” which featured original Korean singers Miss Emma Lee and Baby Chay in a fun tropical-themed blast of music fit to carry along on safari.

Occasionally, vocalist Shakka took the reins to front songs with male vocals, and he was very good at conducting the crowd, literally with his microphone as he paced from one end of the stage to another, inciting roars from the very full house with a raised microphone. It was Shakka who led the band in its performance of “Never Say Never,” last year’s Grammy-nominated #1 U.S. dance hit.

Watch a trailer for the Basement Jaxx live show (as performed at the 02 Arena in London on Dec. 11, 2014) featuring all of the vocalists mentioned:

You saw some gorilla-suited dancers in that trailer, no? Well, at the 9:30 Club Tuesday, our own powerhouse DJs Will Eastman and Ozker of U Street Music Hall’s Blisspop were among those who clad themselves as faux gorillas to jump around on stage during “Where’s Your Head At?” And just when you think Will had done it all…? 🙂

The Basement Jaxx live performance closed with a one-song encore of “Mermaid of Salinas,” an entertaining calypso-flavored celebration of seaside partying if ever there were one.

Basement Jaxx have only one date left in the United States -– tonight in New York City for the Central Park Summerstage. It’s worth your time to drop by and see these electronic mages in action. They’ll remind you as to exactly what they put into their dance hits that gives them the right stuff to get to #1.

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