The Union Ballroom was in high spirits last Thursday as The Urban Sophisticates performed a free concert for Geneseo students. The seven-member ensemble, who blend big-band antics with hip-hop attitude, were energetic and nearly flawless despite having driven six hours from Washington, D.C., for the performance.
As the Greensboro natives played out their first two songs (the second a cover of Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life"), the ballroom seemed to forget waiting a half-hour for the concert to begin. Within one enticing embrace by frontman Benton James, the crowd rose to their feet, where they remained standing until the set ended.
James, who leaves the soulful singing to his brother, Aaron, while he raps, held himself with an overt stage presence that quickly bonded him with the audience.
The James brothers acted opposite each other: one intense, the other profound, but both emotional. The sharp ears and fast hands of drummer Romondo Jessup enhanced the bulk of their set. Jessup hyped up hip-hop beats that sometimes bordered jazz or rock with clean execution on every drum fill and transition beat. With Ricky Nxumalo's rhythmic bass at times entrancing, the songs were played with depth; each instrument stacking on each other to build an intense, arena-style sound.
The music was smoother than something from The Roots and classier than the Black Eyed Peas, but still branded with that revolutionary rock-hop stylized sound (think Gym Class Heroes with a mysterious crime drama theme). As the band worked their way into their set, the audience appeared universally sedated, bobbing and swaying together.
With the help of trombonist Sal Mascali and trumpeter Jeremy Denman, who stood together looking official, while also appearing officially ready to rock - if such a dichotomy could exist - the band's sound livened and differentiated from the drab everyday musical groups of today. The most interesting spectacle of the night, however, was guitarist Ben Perkins, who shifted from guitar to keyboards frantically but successfully.
Despite Benton James' failure to pronounce the town name correctly (from "Genoseo" to "G-Town" as the night progressed), the band was well-received and the concert was one of the best-executed on-campus performances of recent memory. The Urban Sophisticates, who announced at the start of the show that they have been named Billboard's number one unsigned band in America, left little to question and lots to adore.