With Mikal Cronin still raging on the Reverberation Stage, the crowd in the Levitation Tent was surprisingly sparse when Higgins Waterproof Black Magic Band kicked off. TV On the Radio vocalist Tunde Adebimpe was keen to start on time, an especially admirable trait for someone with a tableful of electronic effects in tow.
Adebimpe’s side project bears passing sonic resemblance to TVOTR, but the overall feel is more expansive and groove-oriented. Hints of reverb-saturated dub roiled alongside nods to electro-punk, Afropop, and Saharan blues. It wasn’t long before this intriguing combination drew more people into the tent.
In the middle of it all, the singer held court by filtering his soulful, commanding vocals through all manner of filter-sodden, pitch-bent, time-shifted processing. The fact that Adebimpe’s voice is singularly distinctive in raw form made this mechanical approach all the more remarkable. Lots of acts at this year’s APF fed their vocals through effects, but few (if any) integrated humanity and technology so seamlessly.
Onetime Lee “Scratch” Perry/Matisyahu bassist Josh Werner and San Antonio-born Tall Firs drummer Ryan Sawyer comprised a particularly formidable rhythm section. Werner handled the foundational grunt work, creating a full, steady bottom end without overplaying. This gave Sawyer and guitarist Alex Holden more room to flesh out the atmospherics.
In a set full of new songs, “Mad Lifeline” from the band’s debut EP got the warmest response. Although Adebimpe’s forlorn whistling bears the sleekness of a sample, he delivered it live without a scratch.
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