It was a dance party. It was a concert. It was a place to support activism and non-profit work. Next LVL’s late night social justice social Four Ethers was all that and also yet another attempt by the TBA Festival at drafting and contouring late night performance boundaries. Four Ethers wasn’t always danceable and at times the performances competed with a crowd interested in hanging out and talking, which is always a late night TBA issue. But, though the night was more subdued than Next LVL’s J20 party, Four Ethers succeeded in creating space for local non-profits and keeping activism at the night’s core while showcasing a roster of mind-stretching experimental musicians who challenge form, fuse genres, and evoke feelings.
Local comedian, athlete, and advice-giver, Carlos the Rollerblader used the literal platform of their skates to emcee the evening. Performers like Amenta Abioto, Secret Drum Band, Kelsey Lu, and Serpentwithfeet—whose song Four Ethers is named for—performed set against flowing nature visuals by Rak Salt.
Amenta Abioto performed a set similar to her 2016 TBA Festival performance. This incarnation felt more polished, but still contained a brief monologue about the joy of giving and an appearance from her sister Intisar. Abioto played her new singles “Wade” and “I Would Like” to a swaying audience. These new songs could be considered akin to the more avant-garde work we've seen from Solange, Janelle Monae, or Natasha Kmeto. “Go off, babe!” a woman yelled.
Secret Drum Band, the percussion ensemble led by naturalist and former Explode Into Colors drummer Lisa Schonberg, played a set that felt very influenced by Brazilian percussion, due to their recent travels to
that country. They were occasionally accompanied with vocals by Amenta Abioto. As with the previous performance, there were a few monologues. Schonberg talked about the vitality of the Amazon rainforest, then pivoted into a joke about protesting Jeff Bezos on social media. Given both her expertise and Next LVL’s mission, Schonberg could have jabbed deeper and more meaningfully. Then again, I can barely handle batting my eyelashes as political resistance, let alone while coordinating rhythm with four other professional musicians.
LA musician Kelsey Lu sounded like an avant-garde Jackie Evancho or Ashia Bison Rouge or like if Klaus Nomi took Xanax. She alternated between cello, electric guitar, and acapella singing and performed in a formal ensemble that—save for her pair of amazing iridescent funk platform heels and swapping in a powdered wig for her knee-length ribboned braid—resembled 18th century Western European noble party wear.
New York musician Serpentwithfeet brought his ecstatic blend of gospel roots and queer sensibilities to the stage in a glistening, floral-patterned black blazer. Serpentwithfeet feels like a spiritual successor to Nina Simone and crafts songs that I imagine we'll soon be hearing on a prestige TV shows in gripping sexually charged cliffhanger scenes. The previously buzzing audience grew quiet as they listened—the relative silence broken with the occasional whistle. Serpentwithfeet’s soft, powerful control over his body and his instruments are unforgettable and highly recommended.
We're wrapping up our TBA 2018 coverage, but we have a few more things to say! Keep up with us for our reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba