by Loretta Donelan
“Youthful” is perhaps the best word to describe Toronto instrumental hiphop/jazz group BadBadNotGood (BBNG). The trio epitomizes juvenile swag, performing in pig masks and sweatshirts and covering artists like TNGHT, Odd Future, and James Blake. Their last album came with the guarantee that no one above the age of 21 was involved in its making. Even their marketing approach is very youth-oriented, as they release their albums for free and encourage fans to tell them where to play through the show-booking website WeDemand.
But there is also a precision to their music, more studious than rebellious. Band members Matthew Tavares, Chester Hansen, and Alexander Sowinski are all trained jazz musicians. And when they took to the dark stage at the Middle East on February 7th, it was clear that they were fully in control.
The audience, comprised almost entirely of young men, stayed calm for the first few tracks–it was a jazz concert after all. Only when the band started playing “Putty Boy Strut” by Flying Lotus did the crowd really start to get excited. The crowd provided the song’s signature frantic claps, while BBNG played a version that didn’t stray far from the original.
Their performance lacked the crisp sound that can be found on BBNG albums, including their live ones. A burning speaker was the main culprit, and it affected more than the sound; the room was filled with a pungent smokey aroma.
But the band played on, performing some new tracks, including a slow, warm number. The audience was temporarily lulled, before the trio played some old favorites. Since it was the late great producer’s birthday, the band played a J. Dilla tribute. Their rendition of Dilla’s “Fall in Love” off their first album had the crowd going wild, as did their version of “Buggin’,” originally by trap superstars TNGHT, complete with the song’s creepy baby coo.
The night closed with the signature synths of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights.” When it seemed like the song was coming to an end, drummer Alex shouted that he would give us one more chance to go wild. The trio plunged into the song again, with even more enthusiasm, and of course, even more swag.