The Foreign Exchange could not have picked a better time to pull into B.B. King's than last Friday. OK, maybe the showtime could have been better — 6:30 p.m. is way, way earlier than the Spin is usually out and about. But in terms of timing the show exactly when The Spin was going to need a damn fine R&B show, The Foreign Exchange couldn't have done any better. While we usually avoid pop country at all costs, somehow we got roped into spending CMA week slobbing on the proverbial knobs of Music Row via some non-Scene-related freelance work. We felt dirty, we felt whorish, we had the most trite songs about flip-flops and Mexican beer stuck in our heads. It was awful. But one awesome set by The Foreign Exchange made everything all right.
Granted, The Spin being The Spin, we got there late — having spent an ungodly amount of time looking for parking and trying not run over tourists with glazed eyes and small children running around. It was a pretty good reminder of why we never, ever go to Second Ave, especially on a weekend night when the Interstate & County crowd floods the city with their knockoff Affliction shirts and acid-washed jeans. We appreciate the fact these folks want to spend hard-earned money as tourists in our fair city. But good gawddamn, people, pay attention to where you're walking! They might not have street lights out in Bumpkinsville, but we do here, and the red hand means DON'T WALK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING STREET. And don't stand there looking blankly as cars beep at you. It's Urban Survival 101, folks: Avoid ending up at the business end of a moving vehicle. The Convention and Visitors Bureau really ought to include that in the brochures.
But whatevs! By the time we found a parking space and scraped the Dickson County residents out of our grill, we were ready to party like it was 1999 — which is was, based on the fashion choices of those milling about on Second Ave's sidewalk. The crowd inside B.B. King's, on the other hand ... well, those were some stylish, well-dressed folks. Thank God, because if we had spent the night surrounded by Coed Naked T-shirts and souvenirs from the Charlie Daniels museum we probably would have spent the night barfing. But again, even though we were on Second Ave., it was like we were a world away. We hadn't been to B.B. King's in years, but it's not a bad room, and we wouldn't mind seeing more shows there. It would be nice if they turned off the houselights during the show, though — The Spin's ADD is cranked up to 11 in well-lit rooms. But what can you do?
Despite all the weird time/space vibes involved with making it to the venue, the show was fucking phenomenal. There is no better way to reclaim your sanity after a week of kowtowing to The Man than taking in a set of badass, jazz-fueled progressive R&B. The Foreign Exchange veer between futurist fusion and pragmatist gospel revival — when lead singer Phonte led a call-and-response of “Titties and Jesus just don't mix” we knew we were in the right place — and their insanely smooth vibe intersected with the ravenous crowd at just the right angle to make the rest of the world fall away. There were moments that channeled the Godfather of Soul, not to mention a Prince cover and a lot of choice cuts from the FE catalog in between.
The band, seven members deep, has a preternatural flow, an otherworldly ability to vibe with themselves and the audience and fill an entire room with positive feelings — even with the house lights turned on. FE isn't the biggest band in the world — they are an entirely D.I.Y. outfit from production to booking — but you'd never notice that from the love and enthusiasm emanating from the crowd. Sure, singer Cy Smith's family was in the house, but that was only a tiny fraction of the crowd. You'd be hard pressed to find a band with a more devoted audience — they braved Second Ave. to see this show, for cryin' out loud! And that devotion was paid back in kind by a show of remarkable warmth and character, of unequaled smoothness and style. It was almost enough to rinse all the pop country out of our poor, punished brain.