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So anybody that knows me musically knows that I’m all about Foreign Exchange. I love this band, and I have loved them through all of their artistic permutations. I have driven out of town to see this band twice and have made no apologies for stating anywhere that they put on one of the most engaging live shows out. None of their three albums sounds the same and they’re all game changers on one level or another. You never know what this group is going to put out or do on stage and I think it makes them one of the most dangerous bands out there. Everything that’s wrong with the industry right now is somehow set aright whenever their music is playing. And seriously? We all know damn well “Leave It All Behind” was the best R&B record of 2008 AND 2009. I say that with full knowledge of what else came out those years. The Locker, it does not quibble.

That’s my warm-up. If you are reading this and you still don’t know who Foreign Exchange is I’ve generated a crash course of videos for you at the bottom of this article. Go get a late pass.

On a whim I submitted an email last week to an open call contest for a private FE concert. I figured, what could it hurt? I never win anything anyway. I would have loved to see them again because I learn something new every time I see them live, but come on: it’s an open call to thousands of fans, spread out over multiple social networks, taking place five days after the call, all the way in North Carolina. Let’s be extremely conservative and call it a one in ten thousand shot. This is a Grammy-nominated group we’re talking about here.

A couple of nights later – Thursday - my phone rings and the conversation goes exactly like this:

Me: Hello? (Smooth motherfucker voice right here, of course.)
Phone: Is this Scott?
Me: Yes. (Still smooth. It was late and now I’m thinking I’m about to be sold something.)
Phone: This is Nicolay from Foreign Exchange.
(pause, synapse fires, coolness receding)
Me: OH SHIT?! What’s UP?! What’s goin’ on? (Completely lost my smooth shit in two seconds.)

Nicolay proceeds to say that I’ve been chosen to attend the advertised private concert in Durham on Sunday (in three days!), but had to ask if I would actually make the trip if I was chosen. I told him I’ve driven to see them twice (though not to the tune of eight hours one way) and I would absolutely be making that trip. I couldn’t remember what else I had to do the rest of the weekend but I knew that if it didn’t involve getting in a car to go to Durham it wasn’t happening. At some point in the conversation I could hear someone else on the phone and I asked, “Who else is on the phone?” Then a voice chimes in with “Ay, what’s up, it’s Phontigallo.” I curse again very loudly – though this time with a different curse word. We all laugh, good times. I’m in. I’m going to the show…and I was invited to do so by my favorite band. My favorite band has my phone number and USED it. Some furniture in the house got moved, yelling ensued, favors got negotiated. Magic.

I’ll speed this up because really, the show is the meat of the story:

Got the email about when and where to go (but had to keep it a secret). Got to Durham in 8 hours, piece of cake. Had dinner at Tripps. (I don’t know if Tripps is like the southern version of Applebees and there are a thousand of them everywhere, but even my plate tasted good.) Got to the venue, which is a super-smooth studio called Sound Pure and almost interrupted sound check. We got free t-shirts from Aimee Flint, who basically runs FE operations. I liked her straight-away: all business, but cool. She protects her crew. She reminds me of a few people I’ve worked with over the years in poetry. Big-ups to all of the ladies who showed up for the show dressed to the nines and were then asked to put on an FE t-shirt. I didn’t think all of them were going to be able to pull it off, but it was 100% FE shirtage as far I could see. The small audience in attendance was offered snacks and wine and allowed to hang loose before the show.

We finally got into the studio proper and it was a lot smaller than I thought. In fact, I started looking at the staging area, which took up about a third of the room, and then the seats. I counted about 35, maybe 40 seats plus a few couches. I thought, this is REALLY intimate, son. REALLY exclusive. We were told that they could fit about 10 people in the engineer’s booth as well. I did some more math. Holy shit, I thought. I think there were more people let into my poetry show this past week than were let into this show. Now I was really excited, since whatever was going down was obviously special.

The stage was decked out with lamps covered in scarves, some real pretty Prince shit. Then I looked at the instrumentation. Then a REAL chill ran up my spine: there were no keyboards, no laptops, no electric bass. A grand piano, drums, a 6-string bass, a couple of acoustic guitar stations and three mics. Holy shit, Batman: this is an ACOUSTIC set! Then I noticed that everything was miced. Oh my god, this is going to be a live recording, yo!

Right before the band comes out who walks in the room? 9th Wonder.  Yeah, THAT 9th Wonder. He comes out, does the stoic Purple Rain band introduction (”Ladies and gentlemen, The Foreign Exchange”), exits stage left. What was hilarious about it to me was not the First Avenue riff, but the way the room shut down when he took to the mic. There was a real nervous energy in the room because there isn’t any Little Brother anymore and for a second we were like, “Is this show about to get into some reunion shit?!” The answer was no, but it was really cool to see him gracing the same space as his old friend.

Finally FE came out and the band was almost completely different than the one I was used to. The only people I recognized right off the bat was Zo! on piano, Phonte on vocals and Nicolay on…acoustic guitar?! The band got settled in, Phonte handled the welcoming stretch and it was on...sitting in the second row of my very first live-recording of an album ever.

Let me tell you: you haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Fight For Love” acoustically. Or a country and western-hip-hop remix of “Daykeeper”, complete with Hee Haw-isms. Or “House Of Cards” unplugged, which is probably my favorite FE track of all time. Or a **** cover (that one I won’t spoil). This band could have gotten away with making a live CD/DVD of their regular show and it would be hot. That they decided to go out on a limb and try it all-acoustic is more than daring…it’s genius.

Which is why this is my favorite band out right now: pound for pound, they craft awesome songs with pure musicianship, spread out over any number of genres and will take it to your dome live, even at a shorter show length than I’m used to seeing from them (they can do two hours standing on their heads and make you love it all). If you were creating a joke and it started with, “What do you get when you take a rapper and a Dutch musician and give them the internet?”, the answer would never have been Foreign Exchange. These cats ARE the game.

Let me summarize by adding that I’ve talked to and interviewed a number of celebrities. Most of them were cool, and genuinely appreciative of the support of their fans. But there ain’t nothing like your favorite band shouting-out your city to the audience, pointing out you came the furthest distance to see them. There was genuine appreciation from them that the trip was made, and they let me know that after the show when I talked to them. Phonte said Twitter him when we got home so he knew all was well. By the time I finally got home this morning I saw a post from Phonte shouting out for tweets to keep me awake on the road.  I also got shout-backs from the rest of the band I had tweeted as well, thanking them for a genuinely moving experience.

So in conclusion: I got a phone call a few nights ago from my favorite band inviting me down to a private concert three states away based on an email drawing. Everything was dropped, the car was fueled and over 16 hours of driving was committed to the act of hedonistic live music sampling. The live show was the SHIT, got to talk to the band afterward and got mad Twitter love after a post from the band the next morning.

I ain’t never giving this band up, son.

- S

The Foreign Exchange website

Daykeeper (f. Muhsinah, who is my GIRL)

Take Off Your Blues

Fight For Love

House of Cards (f. Muhsinah, who is STILL my GIRL)


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 22nd, 2011 12:04 am (UTC)
LEGENDmag repost
Love the article and everything you said as FE is my favorite group as well. I'd love to repost part of your article and with a "read more" link after if that's cool with you. It was a great read and exciting to hear FE is always doing things big. Well in this case small :-)
Feb. 22nd, 2011 12:26 am (UTC)
Re: LEGENDmag repost
Feb. 22nd, 2011 12:40 am (UTC)
Re: LEGENDmag repost
Make sure to kick back a link here!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )