Oakland-based artist Fantastic Negrito rocks UC Theatre

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On Oct. 14, under the whimsical blue glow of UC Theatre stagelights and chandeliers, Xavier Dphrepaulezz glided onstage, immediately embodying his musical persona, Fantastic Negrito, as he gazed assuredly into the audience. To call the quickly rising blues artist’s ensuing performance “singing,” however, would do Fantastic Negrito’s unmatchable emoting of lyrics a great injustice. Instead, the musician all but bled his music, communicating an artistic urgency that captivated his audience throughout his entire performance.

Fantastic Negrito drew primarily from his first full-length album, The Last Days of Oakland, an homage to his Bay Area roots, exhibiting sentiments ranging from deeply personal to broadly political. Opening with crowd-pleaser, “Working Poor,” the artist wasted no time in engaging the venue in the catchy, yet intimately heartfelt and at times painful, chorus — “I keep on knocking but I can’t get in.” Fantastic Negrito’s vocals carried throughout the UC Theatre in smooth vibrations that moved many fans to rhythmic swaying, the energy of shared musical appreciation beating in ribcages and drums alike.

As he performed, the artist moved across the stage in a fashion somewhere between frenzied and ecstatic. At times, song seamlessly slid into dialogue, which Fantastic Negrito took as an opportunity to engage with viewers by way of his Oakland roots: “I love being back home in the Bay Area.” Lights swirled across the stage, spinning hypnotically over the ground. They seemed to jive along with Fantastic Negrito himself as he crouched over his guitar, singing from a place deeper than heart.

Throughout the concert, Fantastic Negrito displayed a remarkable range of authentic emotion, allowing him to embody an array of roles. During the gasping breaths of “Hump Thru the Winter,” for instance, Fantastic Negrito seemed to transcend his onstage environment. Eyes closed, he appeared unaffected by the audience before him as he bemoaned the inconsistencies of the American Dream. Upon the song’s final note, Fantastic Negrito left the stage, allowing his drummer the spotlight.

He emerged minutes later, attire marginally altered, to assume a more personable and accessible stance for the well-known set climax, “An Honest Man.” The artist opened the song with humorous dialogue (“You’ve never met him, an honest man. He’s a sasquatch”) and engaged directly with the energy of the audience (“Before I sing this one, I need a lot of power”). In this way, Fantastic Negrito allowed for glimpses of the man behind the artist, a novelty enriching the music beyond what a listener may experience in his recorded tracks. Fantastic Negrito’s later performance of unrecorded song, “Plastic Hamburgers,” served to further elevate the authentic experience of live music above any Spotify playlist.

While Fantastic Negrito succeeded in energizing his audience throughout most of the evening, at times unnecessarily prolonged musical interludes resulted in a loss of viewer engagement. One such instance occurred during “Lost in a Crowd,” when Fantastic Negrito’s indications to his drummer to continue playing initially caused excitement and a profusion of clapping, but eventually faded into only scattered, semi-obligatory applause. The artist also lost momentum when the acoustics occasionally rose above the mix, blurring the melodies.

Nonetheless, Fantastic Negrito maintained an intense presence onstage throughout the concert; he also remained true to his self-proclaimed artistic goals of highlighting social issues including racism, gentrification, poverty and police brutality. The performer bemoaned gun violence, citing a teenaged brother and friend as casualties. Furthermore, in his embellished cover of Lead Belly’s mid-20th century blues hit, “In the Pines,” Fantastic Negrito also commented on the fortitude of the women in his life: “I dedicate this song to all the strong women in the world.”  

The purpose of these messages rang clear, stretching beyond simple awareness. Fantastic Negrito asserted the role of art as a unifying force in a divided world: “When I see this crowd, I wanna rock this crowd. I wanna bring them together. Politicians, they look at this beautiful diversity and they go ‘How can I divide these people among their differences?’ That’s why we need more artists. We got the power. The people have always had the power.”

The performer opted to end with “Night Has Turned to Day,” another one of his most well-known hits. As the audience paired off, swaying happily with one another, the unifying power of Fantastic Negrito’s music appeared especially apparent. “Night has turned to day,” he crooned, a decidedly optimistic flavor in his voice, “Night has turned to day. And it feels so good.”

Contact Ryan Tuozzolo at [email protected].