|Phonte Coleman (John Brewer photo)
Almost immediately at a Foreign Exchange (FE) show you come to two quick conclusions. If this music thing doesn’t work out, lead vocalist Phonte Coleman has a future in comedy. His spot-on Kirk Franklin impression is probably sending us all to hell. And also, this is going to be a good time.
Coleman’s good-natured laughter contributed to the house party atmosphere of the Grammy-nominated R&B/hip hop duo’s first Boston-area stop at Cambridge’s Middle East.
Phonte and producer Nicolay started their musical relationship the new-fashioned way, via the internet. Meeting on the message boards on Okayplayer.com, the duo began crafting their unique sound of electro and hip hop-infused neo soul before ever meeting face to face.
For the uninitiated, think Prince and Lauryn Hill have a baby and send them to the A Tribe Called Quest Daycare Center. Their once cyber relationship has spawned a generous amount of material, too.
Pulling from three studio albums (“Connected,” “Leave It All Behind” and “Authenticity”) and the plentiful freebies they let loose from their own site, Phonte confidently led his eight piece team through a powerful performance.
While there’s a good chance that Phonte sings and raps better than most of the “Top 8 At 8” on your local Hot or Power, he and Nicolay didn’t do all the work. Keyboardist and frequent FE collaborator Zo!, back-up singers Jeanne Jolly and Sy Smith all did their part to make the night memorable.
One of the highlights of the night came when Coleman gave up the mic to let Zo! and Sy Smith deliver “Greatest Weapon Of All Time.”
Considering that FE’s well-written catalog takes us through the very highs and extra lows of romantic love, to describe their set as a party might strike some as confusing.
Credit set selection, and lead vocalist Phonte’s ability to play the perfect host, for making it all make sense. The construction of their set had as much to do with the show vibe as the music itself.
FE blends their own hits with the sparse use of creative takes on tracks like Teena Marie’s “Square Biz” and Drake’s “Find Your Love” to create the DJ like feel of a house party. Blending their show stopping “Maybe She’ll Think Of Me” with Christopher Williams’ new jack swing classic “Dreaming” and go-go standard “Sardines and Pork & Beans” was near genius.
And it was appreciated. The near sellout crowd of urban professionals and college students side by side with backpacking underground hip hop heads broke into a chant until they returned for a 15-minute encore.
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