The worlds of R&B, rock and hip-hop melded together Oct. 11 at The Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights, as local artists Uptowne Buddha and Jul Big Green opened for Melbourne-based funk band Jakubi. The three groups kept the energy high the entire night, and their complementary styles worked well together for a fun concert mixed with poignant moments.
Uptowne Buddha, named after Cleveland Heights store City Buddha, began the night. The group’s synth-heavy sound, with not one, but two, keyboards, made them stand out against to the two guitar and bass focused bands that followed them. Keyboardist Frank Walton switched over to trumpet during several tracks to add variety to their set. Frontman Vance Jason switched between singing and rapping throughout the smooth jazz influenced hip-hop meets neo-soul performance. The band has a revolving lineup of horn players, according to lead singer and rapper Jason, ensuring that no two shows sound exactly alike.
“We always change horn players,” said Jason. “So tonight we just have Frank, but sometimes we’ll have sax, we’ll have tenor sax, we’ll have trombone. If it’s a bigger gig, we’ll try to bring in more guys to fill the room and have a good time.”
Jul Big Green’s music is difficult to categorize. His acoustic guitar parts imply country music, but they’re underpinned by his dexterous rapping and funky slap bass. Green said he played over 60 shows over during the summer as both a solo artist and a sideman in other bands. The experience showed during his set in both his musicianship and in how he interacted with the crowd.
Much like Jason, Green could switch between rapping and singing effortlessly to create a varied sound over his band’s grooves. To add depth to his relatively bare-bones lineup of guitar, bass, background vocalist and drums, Green used a loop pedal to create layers of interlocking guitar lines.
“It makes people more open to listening to hip-hop stuff,” said Green on his use of acoustic guitar. “It’s all about blending things together and making people comfortable with listening to different styles of music.”
Jakubi finished off the night with a flare, moving from smooth R&B to bluesy hard rock. The group jumped around on stage with abandon during the rock numbers, shedding their slick funk persona to create an atmosphere similar to a manic punk ensemble.
After the rock freak-out, the band moved to their biggest singles “Couch Potato” and “Worry Bout A Thing,” two playful, relaxed jams perfect for a crowd sing along. After these lighthearted tracks, the band moved in the opposite direction with “Mikey,” a song about growing up mixed-race.
To emphasize the seriousness of the song and reflect the isolation that Jacob Farah, Jakubi’s bassist, expressed in his lyrics, every other member of the band moved to the back of the stage, leaving Farah alone in the front. Farah sang with tender honesty about being “too white to be a black kid” and “too black to be a white kid.”
“Mikey” functioned as a brilliant way to cap off a night composed mainly of fun party music, showing the audience that Jakubi can do more than hype up a crowd.