"I don't talk a lot about my songs -- I think they speak for themselves," opined the folk-soul songstress Ayo at the 9:30 club on Friday night. If only. Her mannered, reggae-inflected globo-pop did speak for itself, but only in the fleeting, magical instances when she let it get a word in edgewise.
Ayo (pronounced Eye-oh) opened by cooing, "I am a Nigerian Gypsy, born and raised in Germany." Her narrative ad-libbery was charming at first but quickly revealed itself as a nervous habit. A full-blown star in Europe, she was in pieces over having drawn what looked like fewer than 100 people to the 1,200-capacity club. She playfully said she would use the intimate circumstances to preview tunes from her upcoming album, which could potentially include such favorites as "I Don't Know What I'm Going to Do Next," "It's So Cold in Here, My Guitars Are Out of Tune," "I Hope You Don't Regret That You Came" and "In France, I Play to 5,000 People."
The "crowd" was sympathetic and effusive, helping the shell-shocked chanteuse pull herself together for convincing, urgent takes of the lovelorn mid-tempo numbers "Help Is Coming" and "Down on My Knees." But her confidence was only song-deep: After each performance, she turned to her four-piece backing band in a near panic.
Fortunately for her and us, the band was superb -- fluid and funky and intuitive. The members vamped on through the star's many anxious monologues, exchanging hilarious, knowing glances; but when she was ready to sing, they were right there every time. The show's final third found them indulging their predilection for psychedelic folk-metal freakouts. It had nothing at all to do with the music Ayo was trying to play, but they didn't overpower her; they outperformed her. She was gracious enough to acknowledge it by stepping back and smiling while they tore the proverbial roof off that sucker.
-- Chris Klimek
When reggae star Capleton embraced the Rastafari faith in 1994, he rejected the slackness of dancehall music but not its rhythms and energy. Since then, "the Fireman," as Capleton is called, has carefully mixed message-driven roots reggae lyrics with the blazing intensity of dancehall -- a fusion that is best showcased in his live performances.
At the Crossroads on Saturday night, Capleton was, as always, confounding and thrilling as he growled and bounded around the stage like a madman, yet provided words of wisdom and healing like some sort of shaman.
Capleton spoke of "equal rights" and "justice for all" as he performed "Small World/That Day Will Come," but he rejected the relaxed demeanor so common to artists proffering conscious music. Dressed in red from his head wrap to his shoes, the 41-year-old artist jumped up and down, resembling a flickering flame.
Backed by the Prophecy Band, Capleton provided a set heavy on music from 2000's "More Fire," including "Who Dem?" "Jah Jah City" and "Good in Her Clothes" (the tracks are some of the best examples of Capleton's ability to use relentless, driving party beats for a higher purpose). The Fireman cooled things down with the love song "So Fine," but riled the crowd again by introducing some new music, giving credence to rumors of an upcoming album. The master mixologist segued from a sweet tribute to his mama into a rousing political piece about Barack Obama before leaping off the stage.
-- Sarah Godfrey