You know those bands with too many slashes. If I had a dollar for every time someone described their band as “electro/alt/hip-hop/jam/rave/spoken word,” I’d have enough money to pay rent; I don’t have enough money to pay rent.
Those bands are the worst. Trying to appeal to every demographic usually turns everyone off.
It was a surprise, then, that this week’s American Express: Unstaged showcase was such a roaring good time. The show was part of the card company’s Artist in Residence program, meant to raise awareness of burgeoning acts.
The bill featured Irish folk-singer Gavin James, pop-r&b upstart Pia Mia, glam rocker BORNS, and the big draw of the evening, Rae Sremmurd, the hyper-charismatic duo behind the smash “No Type.”
I wondered how this was going to work. Would there be a massive exodus after each act? In what universe would Gavin James fans be into Rae Sremmurd?
MONOGENRE, THAT’S HOW.
I don’t even really know what that means. I think it means folks aren’t nearly as self-segregating as they used to be. You can now safely like whatever music you want, no matter how disparate. I like that.
Gavin started the evening. The crowd was relatively small, maybe 150 people. I guarantee he converted every single one of those folks not already into him into huge fans. I was familiar with his work already; sweet ballads, earnestness, guitar.
What I didn’t expect was the soul. He burned through hits “For You” and “Say Hello.” We all loved it. But when he jumped down into the crowd and did an acapella rendition of the Ray Charles classic “You Don’t Know Me,” there were tears in the room.
Certainly not from me, though. Cause I’m the realest there is.
He closed the set with a wistful mashup featuring a cover of “What a Wonderful World,” which somehow reminded me of just how un-wonderful the world can be. It was great stuff.
Next up was Pia Mia, who earlier in the day told me she’d added four background dancers to her set at the last minute. Those hip youngsters worked overtime, flanking Pia during uptempo pop numbers that got the swiftly-growing crowd grinding.
The highlight was her much-lauded cover of Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home.” She sat on a stool accompanied only by piano, singing clearly and forcefully. The room was dead silent. It can be tough to show personality while dancing and trying to work a crowd. During this bit of the show, we got a peek into Pia’s soul. I think she might be singing this song to someone special.
BORNS was my favorite act. Lead singer Garret Borns was cheeky and charming, and the band’s songs sounded glorious and shimmering in the cavernous room.
The jam that got the crowd, at this point thick and eager, moving was their cover of Benny and the Jets. Garret can really sing, and has an unmatched head-falsetto mix. One of the best singers in rock for sure.
He delivered this one with a wink and a couple hip shakes. Success.
The band closed with their big hit “Electric Love,” a song you’ve definitely heard everywhere. It’s as buoyant as it is sharp, and the whole room sang along. Even me, and I hate singing along.
We all knew Rae Sremmurd was going to tear it down, though. BORNS probably had a slightly bigger crowd, but everyone in that room knew every word of every song the hip-hop pair played. Rae Sremmurd is made of brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy, and they’re set is a combination of raw energy and well-worn new millennium stage antics.
Slim Jimmy took people’s phones and shot video from the stage. Both members threw drinks over the crowd. No one stopped moving.
Their set ended abruptly. I was sad. Swae at one point said “we’re just getting started!”
But he was wrong. They played two more songs before the set was over. Left us all wanting more, especially after an explosive performance of “No Type.” I could listen to that song on repeat for an entire weekend, and based on the crowd’s response, I’m not alone.