Imagine a world in which people donate their bodies to fashion rather than to science. Imagine further that one of these brave donors was Cousin Itt from The Addams Family. Using their arcane techniques of innovative fashion design, the designers of this foreign world transform Cousin Itt’s lifeless, hairy corpse into a glorious, sleek outfit that drapes the body like limbs on a willow tree, morphing its wearer into a beautiful human/phoenix hybrid.
Last night in Brooklyn, this majestic garb was donned by Ebony Bones, a golden-afroed and vibrant performer from London, UK. Supported by a violinist, a drummer, a guitarist, a percussionist, and a keyboardist, who collectively summoned the dispersed crowd with their version of “Behold, a Pale Horse,” an instrumental song that was originally recorded with the Mumbai Symphony Orchestra, Bones emerged triumphant, ready to direct the anxious energy circulating throughout the small, yet dedicated crowd.
Ebony Bones has been compared to both Santigold and Janelle Monae and while comparisons are often lazy ways of grouping the unfamiliar, in this case the comparisons aren’t unwarranted. Like those two brilliant, familiar faces, Ebony Bones is an eccentric Black woman with a powerful voice, an eclectic image and no allegiance to any particular genre.
Nevertheless, the devil is in the details. First, she lacks their sense of
showmanship showwomanship. Both Santigold and Monae’s live shows are thrilling, but they are also highly choreographed. Bones’ show was much more disorderly; she entropically bounced around stage (and off) without direction or predetermination throughout the show. Second, Bones’ music has a dark undercurrent that palpably seeps through her glamorous veneer. On “I See I Say,” she juxtaposes a jovial sample with elegiac singing back vocals and the result is both danceable and chilling. Likewise, on “Bread and Circus,” which is actually solely instrumental, the song is carried by a controlled oscillation between moody bass and ebullient guitar chords.
Of course, her music is more than the juxtaposition of contrasts. Its real strength lies in its layering. Ebony Bones is a producer as well as a performer, so she has a very fine-tuned ear. This attentive ear was showcased throughout her performance via her subtle but still visible ongoing nonverbal exchange with the sound coordinator. For each song, there were notable adjustments. The emphasis on her voice for the militant “W.A.R.R.I.O.R.” comes to mind most immediately; the commanding tone of the song demanded her voice be rendered loud and clear. Performance-wise, the layering was most apparent during “Neu World Blues,” a song that seems to be carried by the guitar, but is actually propelled by the nested backing vocals and percussion. The audience was able to experience the significance of these backing vocals firsthand when Bones decided to teach us the chant. It initially seemed like obligatory audience participation, but it turned out to be quite important.
It was regrettable that a show of this caliber didn’t have a larger turnout. At a venue as nice as Littlefield, there should have been no unoccupied space, even in the smoking section outside. Nevertheless, Ebony Bones made it work. The only issue is that the end of the show was rather abrupt; with a five-piece band, one would have expected a nice jam session to end the night. But perhaps some things don’t need to be drawn out. Ebony Bones came, she captivated and she left. Other than “check out her new album here,” what more can be said?
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