Idle Warship defies genre categorization at Harlow’s
What do you get when you combine hip hop, rock, pop, rap, electronica, indie and R&B? You get Idle Warship, the collaboration of veteran underground Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli and Res (pronounced reese), a lesser known but well-seasoned R&B/pop vocalist hailing from Philadelphia, Penn.
Touring in support of their recently released album, “Habits of the Heart,” Idle Warship paid a visit to Harlow’s Sunday night and won over the audience of 300 plus members with their unique brand of music that defies categorization due to the influence of so many music genres packaged together in their high energy show.
Many members of the audience were unfamiliar with the Idle Warship concept before the show but were willing to give it a chance based on their familiarity with Kweli’s reputation.
“I’ve been trying to see Talib for almost two years now,” stated Tina Webber, who arrived early in order to obtain a table and a good seat.
“I’ve never heard of Idle Warship before, but I’m very interested to hear the new music and listen to their collaboration together,” said Webber.
Supported by musicians Yuki Hirano on keyboards, John Cave on lead guitar, Brady Watt on bass and Daru Jones on drums, Idle Warship took command of the venue and held the audience captive during an intense set that lasted just over an hour. After a brief break they returned to the stage for a three song encore.
Kweli emphasized at the beginning of the show that he and Res were together as Idle Warship, for the benefit of anyone who mistakenly believed they had paid to see a typical underground rap show.
Kweli and Res electrified the crowd with the song, “Enemy,” the lead track from their album and the first song in the evening’s set. The song was followed by Idle Warship songs featuring their own brand of fusion of funk, rock and hip hop which culminated in a version of the song, “Sweet Dreams,” by the Eurythmics that Idle Warship took and made their own.
The original songs performed by Idle Warship featured a combination of intense rap flows from Kweli, strong vocals from Res, and tight musicianship that was heavily laden with rock guitars from the four-piece band.
A few of the songs Idle Warship performed during the evening were from a 14 track mixtape they released in 2009 called “Party Robot.” That initial Idle Warship effort featured previous collaborations dating back nearly 10 years, along with a few new songs.
“We appreciate those of you who supported our solo careers that allowed us to get to where we are today, but the T-shirts and albums we have for sale tonight are all Idle Warship, and that’s what we are here to represent tonight,” stated Kweli at one point, in between tracks that had the crowd alternatively dancing, waving their hands in the air and bobbing their heads along to the beat.
It took until approximately one-third of the way through the evening’s set before the crowd heard the first exclusively rap track of the evening, “Get By,” from Kweli’s 2002 album entitled, “Quality.” The audience let out an enthusiastic cheer and many members were able to recite the words along with Kweli.
Kweli immediately told the crowd when the rap was over that it was just a sideline and was not intended to distract the audience’s attention away from the Idle Warship music that was the focus of the evening’s show.
More Idle Warship music followed, including “Driving Me Insane” and “Steady,” along with some excellent vocals from Res as she reached back into her catalogue of solo work since becoming a professional artist in the early 2000’s.
All the music stopped when Kweli went a cappella to perform his track, “Distractions,” featured on his soon to be released solo album entitled, “Prisoner of Conscious.” Kweli also indicated that a new Blackstar Album (his collaboration with artist Mos Def) would be forthcoming and further stated that Res is expected to release a solo album in the near future.
Kweli mesmerized the audience with his performance of “Distractions,” which features the socially conscious and politically aware commentary that has been a staple of his career.
Afterward, Kweli introduced the song, “Beautifully Bad,” and commented that it was probably his favorite track on the “Habits of the Heart” album. Kweli’s heartfelt opening verse was matched and exceeded by the exceptional vocals of Res, who demonstrated her talent as a singer and performer on the track that had the feel of a classic rock ballad.
As the set was nearing its conclusion, more of the uniquely intense Idle Warship fusion sound was exhibited as each member of the band rocked out and took their turn with a solo exhibition of their individual talent.
The set ended with Res whipping the crowd into a frenzy by leading the way on the track, “Laser Beams.” The track is demonstrative of the Idle Warship sound that defies simple explanation with the combination of high energy dance and rock with a strong influence of hip hop.
The appreciative crowd let it be known, by steadily cheering and chanting for well over five minutes straight, that they would not be satisfied unless Idle Warship came back to perform an encore.
They crowd was not to be disappointed as the band came back and performed three more Idle Warship songs, ending the evening with the dance track, “Metro” from their “Party Robot” album.
Idle Warship was not the only live band featured at Harlow’s during the evening’s show. The opening act, Butterscotch, also put on an hour long set that started just after 9 p.m.
The band is named after the founder and lead singer/musician, a local talent now based in San Francisco. She is a veteran beatbox competitor who has won international acclaim competing against men and women.
Butterscotch made it to the final four in “America’s Got Talent” in 2007 before being voted off the show. Her rising stardom indicates that she is destined to be a force in the music industry for many years to come.
Butterscotch’s sound is heavily influenced by jazz, funk, hip hop and beat box origins where she established her credentials as an entertainer and crowd pleaser.
Butterscotch spent most of the evening playing lead guitar, singing, rapping and demonstrating her skills as a beatbox artist in a variety of amazing ways. The time she invested at the Natomas Charter School’s Performing and Fine Arts Academy and at Sacramento State as a music major (classical piano) showed; her skills as a trained musician were evident.
Backed up by Arlyn Anderson on lead and bass guitar, Joe Berry on the saxophone, Dominic Garcia on percussion along with D.J. Destiny, Butterscotch’s set started out with a funky yet jazzy intro until she lead the band into her newly released single, “Perfect Harmony.”
The audience immediately responded warmly to her sultry vocals backed up by some outstanding playing by Anderson on the bass guitar.
Love is the prevailing theme of most of Butterscotch’s original material, as is evidenced by the songs, “The Very Thought of You,” “Hypnotize Me” and “Under the Sun.”
While performing “City Love,” Butterscotch displayed her talents on the keyboards in addition to the mix of singing, beatboxing and lyrical rap flows.
Butterscotch treated the audience to her own unique version of the oft covered George Gershwin jazz standard, “Summertime.” She combined a funk influence with her unique skills at beatboxing to elicit a huge spontaneous response from the audience.
Butterscotch alternated between singing, beatboxing and rapping during her song, “Obsession,” which was performed with a throwback vibration reminiscent of pioneer female rappers from an earlier era of hip hop, combined with overtones of jazz fusion.
To close out her set, Butterscotch was joined on stage by backup vocalists Carwin Brice and Kristin Bosby, along with rapper Random Abiladeze for the track entitled, “Silver Lining.”
Abiladeze’s verbal skills complemented Butterscotch’s rap flows as the band increased and decreased the tempo of the music matching the alternating delivery of lyrics with D.J. Destiny mixing and scratching. The crowd was up and on their feet grooving and screaming enthusiastically on cue during the call and response. The excitement that was generated was a fitting end to the set for the crowd that was eagerly waiting to hear Idle Warship.
"I loved the energy of the crowd and I am very thankful of the support I received," stated Butterscotch after the show.
Ben Lui attended the show with friend Nick DeMelo and was impressed with Butterscotch’s performance.
“I didn’t know what to expect based on Butterscotch’s look when she took the stage but the music turned me into a fan,” stated Lui during the break between the two sets.
After the show there was universal agreement that the “Idle Warship experience,” as Kweli referred to it several times on stage during the show, was well worth the price of admission.
Mazi Noble and Lauren Wilson came from Chico to attend the show at Harlow’s.
“I’m a huge fan of Talib Kweli,” stated Noble after the event.
“It was without a doubt worth the effort to make the drive from Chico to see the show,” said Wilson.
In keeping with their promise onstage to get to know everybody in the audience, Kweli and Res came out from backstage after the show and signed autographs on the Idle Warship t-shirts and cd’s offered for sale.
“This was one of the best crowds because they kept the energy up,” stated Res after the audience cleared the venue.
“I hope that Sacramento continues to support us by buying our music so that we will be able to return,” said Res.
When asked what he would like to tell the people of Sacramento, Kweli paused thoughtfully, then smiled and simply said, “Thank you.”