Hypnotically Slinky, Irresistible Grooves on the Latest Amadou & Mariam Tour
Sometimes all it takes is new keyboards to completely transform a psychedelic band. At Malian legends Amadou & Mariam’s show at Prospect Park last summer, those keys were usually lush and orchestral, giving the husband/wife duo a majestic Pink Floyd backdrop for their mesmerizing, undulating, psychedelic tunesmithing. In the set’s funkiest moments, those textures gave the group more of a Talking Heads feel. But last night at the group’s latest New York stop on their never-ending tour, keyboardist Charles-Frédérik Avot channeled the Doors’ Ray Manzarek with his spiraling, Balkan-tinged organ and surrealistically echoey electric piano. Those carnivalesque timbres were a perfect fit with the duo’s signature blend of trancey Malian duskcore, hot buttered American soul and uneasy 60s acid rock.
They’re one of the genuine feel-good stories of the last several decades: Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met at a school for the blind, married and have gone on to become a major draw on the global jamband and outdoor festival circuit. As usual, Mariam would do a three-song set and then be escorted offstage for a break while Amadou stood inscrutable behind his shades, moving effortlessly between oldschool 60s soul, spare janglerock and energetically unwinding spirals of blues. He soloed like crazy at that Brooklyn gig last summer, but this time out he unleashed a grand total of three solos. The first might have gone twelve bars, tops. The second featured a mysterious, watery blend of wah and reverb; the last was the longest, and most evocative of the wildfire American blues legend Amadou often brings to mind, Albert Collins. The premise last night seemed to be to keep everybody wanting more.
Mariam also induced goosebumps throughout the crowd when her voice took an unexpected flight up toward the stratosphere on a midtempo jangle-soul number midway through the set: vocally, she hasn’t lost a step. And she made an unselfconsciously fetching presence when she reached over to her guitarslinger husband and stroked his shoulder during the last of the band intros: the affection between the two is also still there.
Their lyrics shift between Bambara and French, between the romantic and the political. Amadou’s long introduction to La Confusion, an African unity anthem, underscored how daunting and Kafkasque it is to simply engage with a totalitarian regime, let alone bargain with one. By contrast the band transformed Bofou Safou – a blippy, techy mess on record – into a mighty, unstoppable, whoomp-whoomp dancefloor anthem fueled by the turbocharged beats of drummer Yvo Abadi and percussionist Joel Hierrezuelo, the group’s bassist holding vamping his way along with a growling, gritty tone.
Among African cities that the duo sent a shout out to, Bamako seemed to be best represented in the crowd. But Amadou didn’t need to give the rest of the audience a French lesson to get them singing along to Je Pense a Toi (Thinking About You), one of their catchiest, most popular and lighthearted numbers. They finally called it a night after over an hour and a half onstage, pretty impressive for a midweek show in the middle of nowhere in outer-borough post-industrial warehouse-land.