Fantastic Negrito’s Friday night performance at Glasgow’s prestigious Royal Concert Hall began in the same celebratory manner that the last two years has offered up for the artist whose real name is Xavier Dphrepaulezz. Dressed to impress in his Hamilton grey tartan trews and waistcoat and joined on stage only by keyboardist LJ Holoman for tonight’s show, as the lights dim and illuminate the duo, it’s apparent that it’s going to be an intimate affair.
It’s therefore fitting that he also shares with us the darkest moment of his life just before his set opener. Having spent almost 4 months in a coma after a serious car accident, the first words he heard spoken when he awoke from it were that of his Mother which inspired Xavier to return to the music business and write ‘Night Has Turned To Day’.
Despite the omission of the full band Xavier and LJ manage to get the crowd - who are predominantly here to see the headliner Chris Cornell - on their side immediately with his hand claps, repetition of the opening line and a discharge of sheer soul that a lot of modern black roots music fails to find.
It’s a track that is a pivotal point in his past as is the follow up ‘An Honest Man’. Having once cut a shady figure on the streets of Oakland in his younger years, he dedicates it to the brotherhood of men in the crowd, to join in his repentance as he later admits that he is a "self recovering narcissist".
It’s quite the haunting sound as bass walks on his guitar throughout the song are embellished with low hums and LJ’s piano creates an overall gothic-blues atmospheric nature to it. With the crowd firmly on his side by this point Fantastic Negrito decides to up the ante once more and takes the opportunity to have the crowd eating from the palm of his hand.
Announcing that he’s about to perform a remake of Lead Belly’s ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ with added verses, it quietly falls on deaf ears to the largely grungy demographic who then let out a huge cheer as they recognise it from Nirvana’s MTV unplugged set.
As someone who has a new-found lease on life and is also known in his close quarters as the patron saint of second chances, Xavier never misses a heartbeat to try and inspire those around him. Twenty years ago, he had signed a multi-million pound record deal and was on the same roster as Prince whom he paid homage to. “Another crazy brother who learnt to take chances” and telling the crowd that “everyone in this room is an artist, it’s our time, go home and create, the world needs you”.
What no-one could expect was that what had forgone was a warm up for the undoubted moments of the evening. The unreleased ‘Rant Rushmore’ received a standing ovation from a crowd that had been in their seats throughout. It’s a song that levels itself to find the next great place to go. It has a soul-funk verse before transposing to some of the most melodic gospel we’ve heard that culminates into a blues rock middle 8. One can only hope that it will appear on his forthcoming album Last Days Of Oakland released in early June.
With the job almost done it was time to close out with ‘Lost In A Crowd’, a track that beat 7000 entries in NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest. With so many entries you could imagine that it might have been a close affair but NPR put that correct when they told us that it was “the clear winner”. The extended jam over Xavier’s ad-libbing showed why LJ Holoman had played with the likes Dr. Dre, Joss Stone and Nas.
Fantastic Negrito is neither lost in that company, exuding elegance, craftsmanship and showmanship that sets him apart from his other contemporaries. The endorsement from Chris Cornell speaks for itself. The slight surprise was maybe the omission of his two lead singles from the forthcoming album, but having to spoke with him after the show; he told us the decision was simply down to not having the full band with him. After treating me to a few acapella lines from the tracks, he shared that he expects to be back with the full band in September. That will whet the appetite for the hundreds of new fans that he made that night.