By 6:45 pm on October 23rd, a line of mostly young people-laughing and taking pictures despite the cool autumn breeze-stretched along the outside of First Avenue. The reason? Colombian-American singer and songwriter Kali Uchis and Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Garzón-Montano were making a Minneapolis stop on Uchis’ In Your Dreams tour. Both artists were promoting recent albums (Uchis’ Isolation from April, and Garzón-Montano’s Jardín, from early 2017).
The screen in front of the stage rose at 8 pm, revealing Garzón-Montano and his band; a trio of young men playing seemingly every instrument, from saxophone to synth, guitar to glockenspiel. Though hailing from Brooklyn, the multi-instrumentalist’s father is from Bogotá, Colombia while his mother is from France. This multi-ethnic background gives Gabriel’s music a harmonic quality that is hard to pin down but certainly contains a pinch of Colombian cumbia mixed with classical music and the music of the soulful greats, namely Prince. The artist has never been shy about the influence that Minnesota’s own purple patriarch had on him. And in the purple lights of First Ave, the funky synth bass-line and his sensual, harmonized, high pitched voice almost convinced me that Prince was still here, seemingly reinventing R&B in front of a packed First Avenue Main Room.
Though hampered by a leg injury that kept Gabriel seated almost the whole show, the energy the trio brought was palpable. From the first note, the audience absolutely devoured every guitar flourish and looped, harmonized vocal melody. After the first song, the singer spoke: “Hola, me llamo Gabriel Garzón-Montano. Mi padre es de Bogotá.” The audience roared, shouting their admiration in Spanish. As someone from Bogotá, I cannot describe the feeling of community knowing I was surrounded by Latinxs, immigrants, strangers whose only connection with each other is the common love for their Latin American roots. “A quien nació en Colombia? Who was born in Colombia?” I screamed as loud as I could. I felt at home.
Garzón-Montano’s groovy set had the audience warmed up and ready to absolutely lose it for the headliner. The screen once again lifted to reveal four musicians (drummer, bassist, guitarist and keyboardist), and a white curtain along the back of the stage. The sold-out hall roared as the lights dimmed and a spotlight clicked on, illuminating a large circle on the back curtain. Uchis’ silhouette loomed, standing sensually and powerfully as the intro to Dead To Me began. She strutted out from behind the curtain and immediately commanded the stage.
Uchis had opted for a simple stage setup, utilizing only lights, fog, and a single chair to help her tell her story. But her hypnotic dancing and the incredible talent from all the musicians on stage kept the crowd hanging on her every word, dancing, screaming, and singing along for the entire hour-long performance. Her set consisted of everything off of Isolation, with some songs from older EP’s sprinkled in, to the satisfaction of her die-hard fans. Halfway through her set, she announced that she had included the next few songs due to popular request, and that they were not originally in the setlist. She then proceeded to play stripped-down versions of two hits from Isolation, “Miami” and “In My Dreams”. While “Miami” has a more classic Hip Hop sound on the album and “In My Dreams” is a bubblegum pop Damon Albarn (The Gorillaz) collaboration, she played both of them as slower, classic R&B tunes that the audience couldn’t get enough of. To no one’s surprise, she closed the show with her single “After The Storm”, which features Bootsy Collins and Tyler, The Creator. As the band vamped the hook, Kali Uchis thanked the audience, blew a kiss, and marched off-stage. Then came the moment that every “backing band” loves: a handful of choruses to shred over and blow the roof off the venue in a final frenzied cacophony, unburdened by the volume constraints the come with playing with a vocalist. The guitarist and drummer especially wasted no time and showing their virtuosity, a true 3 minutes of impeccable musicianship. Although the audience began chanting “Kali! Kali! Kali!”, the lights came on and the house music began. I was almost relieved, for to top that final exclamation point of a closer would be a daunting task for any musician.
I left the venue for the cold outdoors. But I was warmed by the atmosphere of camaraderie and joy that covered everything. In a time of fear and politically-motivated nationalism, the concert on that cold Tuesday was a brief reminder that immigrants have, and will always be a necessary backbone of this country, an inextinguishable fountain of inspiration, art, dreamers and believers.