Animal Behavior

BADBADNOTGOOD at U Street Music Hall

BADBADNOTGOOD, the genre defying jazz trio, set fire to D.C.’s U Street Music Hall this week. The show was part of their North American tour, “Riding In Cars With Boys”, and was the penultimate stop on their month long tour around Canada and the American Northeast.

One can imagine BBNG as hip-hop DJs with the freedom to improvise their beats. Instead of being tied down to computers and music editing software, the band uses live instruments to cover anything from James Blake to Gucci Mane, inserting their creativity and spontaneity where they see fit. This is in addition to a number of original compositions, of which their new album III is composed of entirely.

III and their previous albums, BBNG and BBNG2, have been lauded as revolutionary and endlessly imaginative. Their music has captured the attention of some of hip-hop’s modern giants, and has led to the band working as assistant producers for the likes of Frank Ocean and Danny Brown. Indeed, the hip-hop industry is keeping them busy, with their latest project, a collaborative album with Ghostface Killah entitled Sour Soul, scheduled for release next February.

On Friday night they were accompanied by Ace Cosgrove and his defining crunchy afro. Ace is a resident of Maryland and leader of the nascent Hostile Youth rap group, which has begun garnering attention in the DMV area since the release of his UsVsRobots album in October.

Ace Cosgrove at U Street Music Hall

Ace’s set started off full of energetic rebellion, calling on members of the crowd to toss up their middle fingers to the sky in defiance of the banal, cliche world outside of the club. Ace spat his lyrics crisply in his staccato flow. He had a full band at his disposal, including a deviously talented flutist and saxophonist that added an extra wisp of oddity and funk to the performance.

The highlight of his set was his performance of “War Wounds”, the leading single off of his Simple Criticism mixtape. He was in his element as the trip-hop lyrics and sci-fi beats resonated amongst the crowd, compelling us to bob our heads and take off with him. Following Ace, the two remaining members of Hostile Youth, the tinderbox Uno Hype and swanky Vaunfe, each showed off a couple of songs before stirring up the crowd for the main act.

BADBADNOTGOOD took the stage to roaring applause. They humbly prepared their instruments: Chester Hansen on bass, Matthew Tavares on keys, and Alex Sowinski on drums. After expressing their graciousness that the crowd had sold out the venue, the band struck their first notes and put the crowd in a stranglehold. All eyes were directed at the three geniuses on stage. Groans of pleasure and disbelief echoed through the crowd whenever Chester would rip off impossible bass lines, or when Matt would gently sprint through the keyboard, or when Alex would explode in a perfectly timed and executed drum solo. We truly were in the presence of greatness.

The first half of the concert was well paced with the band showing of their buttery new single “Velvet” and the wonderful “Kaleidescope” which can only be described as Isaac Hayes’ “Walk On By” mixed with the attitude of French New Wave films. However, once the sinister, watch-your-back opening notes of “Putty Boy Strut”, the Flying Lotus hit, was heard, it was a mad dash to apotheosis. The energy never once died down and the underground venue that we had previously inhabited turned into a Dionysian sanctuary. Chaos, love, and damn good vibes suffused the crowd as they jumped and danced to the relentless beats being produced by the sages in front of them.

BADBADNOTGOOD performing onstage

The climax came with BBNG’s rendition of TNGHT’s “Bugg’n”. The original track is a delicious bit of trap-house with tinsel snares, skull-rattling bass, the strangely satisfying noise of a baby crying for joy and what sounds like a leaky faucet. It doesn’t make any sense on paper, and it should make even less sense when a jazz trio covers it. Yet, through their improvisational skills, the members of BBNG were able to manipulate the song to such extravagant heights that it not only surpassed the original’s grandiose nature, but what was previously considered possible within the world of jazz. When the beat dropped on BBNG’s rendition, animalistic urges were brought to a boil and the crowd erupted in a melange of flailing arms, bobbing bodies, and primal screams of ecstasy. It was truly a sight to behold.

“Bugg’n” was followed by the leading single from III, “CS60”, a track that seems to be haunted by the terrors of the world but has faith that the future will be better. This sentiment is conveyed through the transformation of the opening melancholy chords and militarized drum beat to a spacey, determined keyboard run and soul-stirring bass. The revolutionary motif of the song was further emphasized when Alex gave a rousing call to arms, asking the crowd to not put up with anymore bullshit, to be forces for positive change, to celebrate learning and smoking weed, and to treat others with respect regardless of creed or color. With the crescendoing rhythm in the background, the speech had a powerful effect on the spirit of the crowd and innumerable fists were raised in solidarity.

BBNG closed out with their classic, name-making rendition of Tyler, the Creator’s “Bastard” and Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade”. The crowd, of course, loved it and smiles pervaded their sweat-glistened faces as they crawled out of the stuffy sanctuary of music and into the chilly respite of the night air.

Originally published at on December 8, 2014.