September 16, 2017 @ Paradise Rock Club
By: Robert Kerstens
Photos by: Kara Kokinos
The music of Dev Hynes as Blood Orange is a celebration of self-acceptance. Three albums in, his catalog stands as an open invitation for anybody, no matter who they are or what they’ve been through, to shed their insecurities and just dance. His unconditional embrace of the people around him and effortless comfort in his own skin are what make Dev Hynes one of the coolest people in the music industry today. Hynes’ gospel of self-love followed him to the stage on Saturday night as he performed for a sold-out crowd eager to share in his tender vulnerability. His set was buoyant and intimately luxurious, bathing the Paradise Rock Club in the polaroid glow of ’80s funk and R&B.
Ian Isiah opened the night with a brief set consisting of just one song, a soulfully slowed down cover of Cher’s “Believe”. It was a loose interpretation, featuring sparse organic instrumentation and a focus on Isiah’s syrupy vocal runs, fluid and aching with raw emotion. Isiah blended the original lyrics with his own politically charged refrains, calling out the cops for “killing everybody everyday”. By the end of the song, the crowd was cheering with a fervor unprecedented for an opening act, let alone one so brief. Breezy cool jazz filled the air as the crowd got another round of drinks in anticipation for Blood Orange.
Ian Isiah was not long off the stage, returning to thunderous applause to support Dev Hynes with his vocal talent. Once the champagne bubble bath of a show got started, it quickly built an irresistible momentum that carried effortlessly through the set list. An early highlight was an Eddie Hazel-esque shred sesh, with the whole band jamming over a meaty “Love Supreme” bass line. Double-threat-Dev on the keys and guitar dueled his saxophone player, playing with the energy of an exorcism to summon the ghost of John Coltrane.
The funk groove boiled over into “Augustine,” off his most recent album Freetown Sound. Despite a plexiglass barrier to mute the sound, the live drums imparted a humanity missing from the cold rigidity of the ’80s era drums programmed into the studio version. However, the sensitive vocals and tender keys of the original were only amplified on stage, with a vulnerability that would make Prince shed a single tear.
“Uncle ACE” was another foot-through-the-floor funk-driving joy ride, going 90 on the highway with the crowd in the backseat. But then again, even lower-wattage songs like “Better Than Me” and “You’re Not Good Enough” were supercharged on stage by the kinetic force of a talented team of musicians feeding off each other’s energy. There was a palpable air of positivity on stage, with Dev clearly relishing in the successes of his collaborators. His self-confidence was undeniable, with a remarkably natural and uninhibited stage presence that set everybody at ease. Dev wasn’t afraid to dance either, twirling and bobbing gracefully across the stage. He even broke out the SpongeBob Dance at various points throughout the night. But who could blame him? Those grooves made everybody move.
The set finished strong with “It Is What It Is” followed by “E.V.P,” both verified funk odysseys. For his encore, Dev returned alone to perform a silky-smooth cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Happening Brother,” gliding across his digital vibraphone to kiss the audience goodnight.