If you have spent any significant time in Chicago lately, it is a city that definitely resonates with Charles Dickens’ old adage, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The Chi, as many affectionately call it, definitely is a Tale of Two Cities. With Chicago recently being labeled as the murder capital of America where fear, self-hate, tension, and apathy seem to follow it’s diverse yet segregated citizens like a shadow, on one hand it is quite apparent that the windy city needs some healing. On the other hand, it is still a city that loves and appreciates its astonishing architecture while embodying the resilience of its beloved sports teams and stands tall and proud with a skin thick as it’s famous deep dish pizza.
As much as Chicago loves deep-dish pizza, it also loves deep house, hip-hop, soul, and r&b music. The aforementioned statement is highly apparent based on the way the people came out in droves to support The Foreign Exchange at the Metro for their Love In Flying Colors Tour. In an area that is usually crowded due to devoted Chicago Cubs fans making the pilgrimage to the holy grail of stadiums, Wrigley Filed, on Saturday night it was all about Phonte, Nicolay, and their cast of musically merry men and women and what was about to go down at the Metro.
From the stage to the rafters, the venue was completely packed with loyal FE fans and newly found fans as evidenced by FE front man, Phonte, acknowledging that this was the largest Chicago crowd he has ever performed in front of. I must say what an absolutely fulfilling and fun performance it was. Just as the lyrics suggest from their song, “If I Knew Then,” that they chose to start the show with, “Feel so good, loves flying high.” could literally be the soundtrack for the entire evening as the love for FE, love for the moment, and even love of self seemed to be pulsating through the crowd.
As Phonte suggested is his satirical southern Baptist church preacher type of way, “You are going to get music and ministry from an FE show.” I say, you actually get much more than that; The Foreign Exchange is very clever in their use of Phonte’s brilliant MC skills. Whether you enjoy Rakim’s version of “MC means move the crowd” or the more traditional definition of “Master of Ceremonies,” Phonte doesn’t disappoint. He is funny, cool, and spontaneous while still providing a smooth and even vocal tone when singing and if you are familiar with Little Brother, then you know what he can do lyrically when spitting a few bars. The Foreign Exchange, as a whole, is very committed to the performance and you can feel their camaraderie as they transition from rehearsed interludes to spontaneous moments with ease. From the group’s musical mastermind, Nicolay groovin’ on the keys, to background singers, Jeanne Jolly and Carmen Rodgers providing the smoothly enriched harmonious background vocals as tour band members, Zo and Darion joined Phonte front and center for their best Morris Day & the Time rendition, the show is filled with surprises, energy, laughs, and classic nostalgic moments. Not to give away too much of the show but The Foreign Exchange knows their audience well and that was apparent when they went into a Frankie Knuckles tribute with “Girl I’ll House You” that sent the Chicago crowd into a frenzy as many “House Heads” were on deck.
From the classic cuts on their 2004 debut album, “Connected” to the progressively soulful grooves on “Love in Flying Colors,” FE performed an array of joints that took us all down a path of the last 10 years and beyond. Their music goes beyond the surface just as Phonte suggested, “Music can replenish, rejuvenate, and renew the soul.” I think that healing aspect of music especially held true Saturday night in a city that has been riddled with violence, apathy, fear, and worry. At least for one night, I felt that those of us in attendance not only got quality music, but we also got some well-needed ministry and love. That aforementioned “Love” came in the form of The Foreign Exchange and it was definitely received with “Flying Colors.”
To sum it all up, I say this show is a must see and in the words of FE front man, Phontigallo, it was that “Got Damn Got Damn!”