SAN FRANCISCO — Fantastic Negrito, as an artist, lives up to the adjective in his name. The Oakland songwriter and his band lit up the Fillmore with grooves that made dancing irresistible Friday.
The evening served as both an album release show—his sophomore LP, Please Don’t Be Dead, dropped Friday—and a homecoming show. And it became clear quickly that Xavier Dphrepaulezz had only smiling faces in the large crowd of local fans and friends. His set alternated from funk to jazz, rock, blues and more. But one thing he made clear: “[I] didn’t want to be a pop artist,” he said.
On “Nobody Makes Money,” he sang about the hardships of working class people over a funky beat. Well aware of the failures of the American Dream, he had the same message later in his set as he described encounters with people who were working three or more jobs to survive on the song “Hump through the Winter.”
Prior to “A Letter to Fear,” Fantastic Negrito spoke of his distaste for the “gatekeepers” of society, and he hasn’t ever made music to serve them. As his recent success would suggest, he is doing something right. In his songs, he also does not shy away from addressing the struggles of people of color.
“Women who have had to bury their children are the strongest,” he said before continuing into the slow and powerful “Lost in a Crowd.”
With tinkling piano chords weaving in and out of jagged guitar licks, the song set the tone he would continue to espouse in the intro to the following cut, “Rant Rushmore.”
There was also a fair amount of sexual tension in his songs, and at the show. Off and on, Fantastic Negrito would say things like, “We are not in Europe anymore!”—he had just returned from a tour of Europe—and “Shout out to Bay Area Women!” before kicking into “Scary Woman” and “An Honest Man.”
He showed a character of a suave and confident figure, and from what we know of Dphrepaulezz, it’s not really a stretch. Throughout the show, he maintained control with syncopated pauses and swift gestures to his musicians, marking the end of songs.
Fantastic Negrito was acutely aware of his bandmates, roaming the stage to interact with all of them periodically. He also let his bandmates shine, as everyone got a chance to solo. During the set-opening “Bad Guy Necessity,” he invited Candice Antique, of opener Antique Naked Soul, on stage to sing with him. The duo had written the song together, and the cut included a fun call-and-respond line that had the hall singing back, “everyone needs a bad guy to blame.” Following an especially loud ovation, Fantastic Negrito and his band returned for an encore that included new singles “Plastic Hamburgers” and “The Duffler.”
Candice Antique, frontwoman of Antique Naked Soul, preceded Fantastic Negrito with a seven-song solo set of groovy funk and jazz. Featuring an electric piano, guitars, drums and two soulful backup singers, the songs she and a backup band performed foreshadowed what was to come for the rest of the evening.
While Antique owned the stage, her bandmates also appeared to be enjoying themselves. Also an Oakland native, she had a lot to say about her experiences as a woman of color. Before performing new feel-good song “Nappy,” about being comfortable within one’s own skin and hair type as a black woman in the U.S., she talked about the discrimination she has faced.
“Never let anyone tell [you] that [you] are not a queen, or that this [hair] is not a crown,” she said.
“Everyone deserves to live their life to their full purpose,” she said before concluding with “Warrior.”
Zack Bateman, who like Antique Naked Soul is a member of the same artist cooperative as Fantastic Negrito, opened the show with a mix of folk and rock. Bateman brought an excited, yet nervous energy to the stage, and said before his song “Po Boy” that he was a bit nervous to play the Fillmore for the first time. His comfort increased as he and his band went on, though. One of his short set’s highlights came early on “White Keys Black Notes (Nothing to Fear),” on which he kept fans engaged with high energy, melodic chord progressions and shouted lyrics that reverberated in the room.
Bateman’s band included his guitarist-singer mother, Edwina Maye; guitarist girlfriend Ashli Ghoul and a flutist who, basically, had a starring role from beginning to end by playing lead melodies, or responding to the bass of the composition rather than noodling for embelishment.