The Very Best may have the best jobs in the world. If you can’t already tell by the photo above, they throw an incredibly fun show. They aren’t trying to prove anything to you. They also don’t have to coax you into dancing your ass off. Rather, as Esau Mwamwaya bounces back and forth across the stage with an ear to ear grin slapped on his face, you can’t help but smile and dance along with him. He lets his happiness permeate into the atmosphere as “DJ Radioclit” Johan Karlburg keeps the tunes spinning. Together, along with their fantastic touring band, they made this week’s hump day a wonderful one, and helped me go into work Thursday morning with a smile, though I was quite sore from all the dancing.
Seattle’s DJ Darwin spun some excellent sets to get the crowd warmed up. As more and more people trickled into the Crocodile, the tunes got louder and clubbier. Keeping with the Very Best theme, Darwin spun a bunch of African club tunes that felt completely at home within his collection of house, dance, hip-hop, and rap. Once the house was full, the Very Best touring guitarist came out, guitar in hand, to play some of his own tunes to begin the evening. Seye (pronounced like “Cher”) is a Nigerian-born British artist whose style ranges from the singer/songwriter chops he showed off at the Crocodile to an awesome blend of world and electronic dance that he tends towards for his studio work. In short, Seye Adelekan played some beautiful music that highlighted his absolutely gorgeous voice, including a toned down version of “White Noise” and his poppy but melancholy “J.O.A.N.N.A.”. As he exited to change for his set with The Very Best, DJ Darwin entered once again to spin the final tunes before the Very Best’s entrance.
Karlburg and Mwamwaya came on stage to massive applause, followed shortly after by Seye and most-excellent touring percussionist Magnate Sow from Senegal. Karlburg queued up instant MTMTMK favorite “I Wanna Go Away” and people went ballistic. Mwamwaya’s voice live was blow for blow as powerful and as commanding as it is on the album, and his sheer joy on stage is enough to command an audience of any size. With every single chorus, he crept as close as possible to the edge of the stage, dishing the microphone in front of a different face every time. “I wanna! I wanna! I wanna! I wanna go away!” everyone sang over and over again. One song in, and the entire audience was already sold. But just in case there was a single soul left untouched, Karlburg followed it up with Warm Heart of Africa classic “Julia”. At that point it was over. It was no longer about the track list or the sound quality or any of that crap that people complain about that shows. The Very Best hadn’t just captivated their audience – they had brought them into another world where we can all just dance and sing along together with reckless abandon. More than once, Mwamwaya pointed the mic to the crowd for verses that were 100% English-free, but no one cared. Everyone continued to sing along, even if their contribution was no more than a well-tuned collection of yells.
The Very Best ended their main set with “Warm Heart of Africa”, with Seye taking over the chorus. For the encore, Mwamwaya emerged in his infamous outfit from the “Yoshua Alikuti” video. Naturally, people went nuts. The band went from “Yoshua Alikuti” to “Kondaine” (for which the album version also features Seye on chorus duty) to “We OK” just like that. After extracting all of the dancing energy the crowd had, Karlburg grabbed Seye’s mic for one quick comment. “Please, we need all the lights off for this one.” As the lights came down, lighters and cell phones went up into the air, and Karlburg queued up The Very Best Mixtape’s closer “Will You Be There”. The crowd lost it, and as the Very Best closed their set, everyone in the house just swayed, clapped, and sang along with Michael Jackson until the song was over. It was the perfect ending to the set in so many ways. Though the Very Best had thrown one of the best parties I’ve been to in quite some time, they ended their set with three solid minutes of Michael Jackson, to whom the band danced to and enjoyed alongside the crowd.
The world of The Very Best is not one of pretentiousness. They love music, and they love performing, but they haven’t lost touch with what it means to be human and to love each other. That is what makes them the Very Best more than all else.