February 16, 2007 at Brooklyn Academy of Music, Opera House
The curtain came up on an empty stage with a lone pianist working a dinnertime background jazz sound. Then the bassist came out and began laying down a groove, followed by the drummer who climbed up on his kit, put a tambourine on his high hat and turned up the beat with crisply syncopated rhythms.
One by one, a complete eleven instrument horn section came out to make a total of 14 musicians followed by a DJ in the background scratching on a double plate. Everyone on stage was wearing shirts with a picture of Barack Obama and the words in large type, "So Fresh, So Clean."
Finally, Mos Def wandered in from the back of stage, unassuming, to huge applause.
Most surprising about the show was the broad range he put together. Mos did a version of "I Put A Spell On You" starting acappella with the drums, his voice soaring through the sold out house. He has an amazing singing voice, carrying the song while the rest of the instruments came in to create a hip hop blend mixed with spoken word poetry and a final rapping finish.
Mos Def's message is clear. It is about bringing people together. His lyrics are honest with the challenges and violence of the urban experience, but they don't stop there. Love, friendship, a little bravado, musicianship, community, and hope all feature in his balanced word play.
At one point he looked out over the crowd and said, "Guess what, Brooklyn? I loooove yoooou." The crowd loved him back, with some real Brooklyn banter between songs. At times he appeared in conversation with the audience. Taking time between songs, moments of silence filled by the sounds of the room.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music opera house is the same venue that debuted genre breaking performances by John Cage, Philip Glass, Lou Reed and many others. Mos Def was right at home, building on the traditions behind him, absorbing the urban landscape and always making something new. It was a beautiful night to be in Brooklyn, and if you were in New York City, this was the place to be.