Grown Folks Music Reviews Zo! + Sy Smith in New York City

Sy Smith & Zo!: One of Them Nights

By Al-Lateef Farmer

Thursday nights are meant for many things: payday, preparation for the weekend and Happy Hour among them, but for “Rock, Paper, Soul” and Drom, it is cause for getting down. Fortunately for those that dodged raindrops on Avenue A this particular Thursday, Sy Smith and Zo! commanded the bandstand with a singular goal…set the party off!

Taking the stage in front of their band, the duo seamlessly weaved between their respective solo albums and collaborations through the years, kicking off with a rendition of “Nights Over Egypt” that made any unsuspecting concertgoer aware of the business at hand. Showcasing a rare mix of musical marksmanship, impeccable vocals, interactivity and a unique feel for the audience, Sy and Zo! I want to be clear, they didn’t simply stand in front of a drummer and guitar players all night, their band consisted of the requisite drums and bass, but also included a flute and sax as they fronted on dual keyboards.

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One For the Road: Zo! + Sy Smith in New York City (May 3, 2012)

The stare down… Photo by Sean J Rhinehart

The journey to New York City began early Thursday morning when I hopped on the DC Metro and made my way to Union Station. I must have gotten there almost two hours before my train was scheduled to depart (because half of the time, I don’t trust the Metro to get me to my destination without breaking down). I was able to take my time, grab something to eat, pick up my Amtrak ticket and relax until it was time for the train to depart… Our guitarist, Zach Cutler who was also on the same train walked up to the gate, guitar on his back ready to go. We finally boarded the train and everything was smooth sailing… Well, until some lady who smelled like a can of Glade sat next to me and would periodically turn around to her husband and converse loud as hell with him, which turned into no sleep on this train for me! Then, halfway into the ride, the power on the train decided that it wanted to take a break and soon after we began to gradually slow to a stop. We sat there motionless for about five minutes and the train conductor got on the intercom system and announced, “The train is having engine troubles… We are gonna have to reset the engine.” RESET the engine?… Is it WiFi? Call me slow, but I’ve never heard of resetting an engine before. Well, whatever they had to do worked because a few minutes after that announcement, the power was back on and we were moving again (the power continued to cut in and out throughout the remainder of our trip). When we finally arrived at NYC’s Penn Station, I was just happy to be there without any further engine resetting episodes. I got in touch with the promoter as he was en route to pick us up… He got us and took us to the hotel to check-in. I think I had time enough to unpack what I needed for the show and take a quick shower. Not too long after that we had to hop right back in the car and head down to DROM for load-in and soundcheck. But FIRST… We stopped by some spot (I can’t think of the name of the place right now) and I ordered a helluva gyro, it MAY have even been called “Helluva Gyro” on the menu…… Well, maybe not… But maybe that’s how I should have placed my order with the waiter. Lawd, the damn sauce that came with it??!! Once I got it and took it outta there, the thing lasted all of five minutes in the car… I was ignoring texts and missing phone calls because of this food. The joint reminded me of Olga’s Kitchen or Coney Island back home… All I needed was a damn Faygo Redpop with it to make it complete *slips into a detailed daydream*  ……………………… *shakes out of it* Anyway… We hit soundcheck at about 4pm at DROM – walked inside and Sy and flautist Monet Cherise were already in the spot so knowing that we were kinda pressed for time, we quickly set everything up and prepared to run through the set with everyone. Our drummer Brandon Williams came through and set up the kit some time later and we knocked most of the set out during our soundcheck time that was seemingly cut very short. We were also joined by saxophonist LaDarrel “Saxappeal” Johnson who along with Brandon was there all the way from Detroit (they both played with us at our Detroit show), so we were all hyped up and ready to put it on the NYC crowd…

Sy rockin’ the synth bass and Zach Cutler behind her on guitar. Photo by Sean J Rhinehart

When showtime finally arrived, there was a brotha onstage who I guess was the host for the night?… Perhaps? He was telling some half assed jokes and seemingly killing time that we didn’t really have. As a matter of fact, he was so busy joking that he failed to introduce the two of us as a duo. We both walked on stage after the introduction and I walked behind dude and put my arm around his neck to choke him…….. jokingly – I was a good sport about it and focused on the task at hand, which was putting on a great show. But the next time a host fails to simply READ or do their research and introduces us as just Sy Smith… Or just Zo!, I’m clowning that individual thoroughly before we begin our show…

Me on keys and Monet on flute. Photo by Sean J Rhinehart

The show began on a high note and remained that way… I was impressed with the New York crowd because they were PARTYING, which was different because I normally see NYC as the cool, laid back kats who wait until AFTER the show to give you proper praising….. Not at DROM, they were IN it and we loved every minute of it. Sy’s good friend, talented vocalist and musician Gordon Chambers came on stage and joined us for our rendition of Sy Smith’s “Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)” – and the brotha showed no mercy on that second verse, c’Lawd!! At another point in the show somebody yelled for us to do “Groove Is In the Heart” by Deee-Lite – random as shit, yes I know…. BUT Sy “You didn’t think I was gonna take your off-the-wall request and put it overtop of some shit you’d NEVER expect and still kill it” Smith obliged by singing it over the intro music to “MakeLuv2Me”. How ’bout THAT for a crowd pleaser?… Just a FUN, fun show. The fact that we had Sax and Monet to sit in with us with the woodwind instruments just added to the musical chemistry that was in place on stage. The feedback that I received after the show was that people left the show on a musical high, which always gets me excited because I feel as though we have done our job… I got to catch up with a few great friends of mine immediately following the show, including my musical brother AB, Darien Dean, and EVEN saw my dude Illmind in the crowd rockin’ with us… That was dope being as though he and I haven’t chopped it up since around 2006. So we packed it on up and got ready to get on down to Atlanta the next day…

New Show Dates Announced – With Sy Smith & The Foreign Exchange

I may be coming to perform in a city near you… Check the new show dates. I will be announcing some more in the next couple of weeks as well…

For ALL future show information click here

April 21 – With The Foreign Exchange @ Triad College Music Festival – Greensboro, NC  BUY TICKETS

May 3 – Zo! + Sy Smith @ DROM – New York City, NY  BUY TICKETS

May 5 – Zo! + Sy Smith @ Apache Café – Atlanta, GA  BUY TICKETS

May 10 – Zo! + Sy Smith @ 2826 Arnetic – Dallas, TX  BUY TICKETS

May 11 – Zo! + Sy Smith @ Fitzgerald’s – Houston, TX  BUY TICKETS

June 3 – With The Foreign Exchange @ The 20th Annual Capital Jazz Fest – Columbia, MD  BUY TICKETS

June 4 – With The Foreign Exchange @ Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, NY  BUY TICKETS

June 5 – With The Foreign Exchange @ The Middle East (Downstairs) – Cambridge, MA  BUY TICKETS

June 7 – With The Foreign Exchange @ Shaka’s – Virginia Beach, VA  BUY TICKETS

June 8 – With The Foreign Exchange @ Lincoln Theatre – Raleigh, NC  BUY TICKETS

June 9 – With The Foreign Exchange @ The Emerald Lounge – Asheville, NC  BUY TICKETS

June 13 – Zo! + Sy Smith @ Blues Alley – Washington, DC (1st SHOW – 8:00pm)  BUY TICKETS

June 13 – Zo! + Sy Smith @ Blues Alley – Washington, DC (2nd SHOW – 10:00pm) BUY TICKETS

Soul Power in NYC… With Phonte & Waajeed

So since The Foreign Exchange was already in town to do the show at Merriweather Post Pavillion Saturday evening, Phonte and I decided ahead of time to go ahead and try to lock down some BoltBus tickets and roll up to New York to go and kick it with the brotha Waajeed for the day.

First on the agenda was to check out the newly released documentary Soul Power, which chronicles the 1974 mega concert that was held in Zaire, which included James Brown, Miriam Makeba, Bill Withers, The Crusaders, B.B. King, The Spinners, Celia Cruz, and many others. I’ll just say that it’s a must-see film for all musicians and music lovers. The concert footage was excellent and the way we were positioned in that tiny movie theatre, it damn near felt as if we were there – They had everything sounding so crisp… Definitely worth the time and money. I’ll be online ready to pick up the DVD when it’s released. 

Immediately following the movie, we hit up the 
BBQ’s spot on 23th and 8th cuz you know kats can’t get together without eating up every damn thing known to man.

The ‘Sticky Wings’ were on the menu and I was advised to take advantage. The waiter suggested I get a Hennessey Colada to wash it down with… I hesitated at first because I wanted one of their margaritas – Plus, I was kinda thinking like, ‘The hell are y’all putting Hennessey in a damn colada for anyway?’ …but I got one. The joint was actually pretty good…it came with a shot of Henney on the side too, which I happily took care of. Check the plate of waings though, licks faingers while eating å la John Witherspoon…

The BoltBus ride home was cool besides the fact that a kat came and sat in the seat next to me smelling like he had bathed in garlic butter. UGH… 

All in all… good times in NYC.

BoltBus from D.C. to NYC

Traveling to rehearsal in NYC for the PPP shows earlier today was interesting as always via the BoltBus, which for those who don’t know is a cheap ticket and it advertises free wi-fi, and working power outlets for your cell, mp3 player, laptop, etc. This was actually my second trip to New York via BoltBus – my first was in March. That time I had no issues with the wi-fi connection or the power outlets…started off on the right foot.

This time I wasn’t so fortunate. I couldn’t get a wi-fi signal on my iPhone, why? Because the ‘log in’ page that the nigganet defaulted to wouldn’t scroll down far enough for me to reach the ‘I Accept’ option. Therefore, I was forced to accept AT&T’s 3G availability all the way up 1-95. Ok, no problem. I decided to keep folks up to the minute by Tweeting every now and then about the loud ass kids that I happened to be sitting behind and the lil five-foot-nothing lady in the seat across the isle from me who decided she would occupy and entire row on her own. Alright… kats were keeping me on my toes, but it was alright because I still had the trusty nigganet on me to keep me busy the duration of the trip. So about an hour and a half into the drive, I figured it was time to try and get some sleep. While I got sleep, I wanted to plug my phone up to make sure it was charged back up, right? Nope! The punk ass (lack of) power outlet in front of me refused to allow that to happen by not working. I looked around at others on the bus and I noticed that no one else had anything plugged into their outlets either…WACK. So I spent the last half of the trip attempting to save my battery by not answering calls or texts (of course that’s the time when everybody wants to call or text).

Despite my phone’s power troubles, entertainment on the bus itself was never an issue. There was a kat about 4 rows in front of me who looked like damn Antonio Fargas who was on his cell talking lous as hell… You know the type of loud where a kat is just excited to have a cell phone and wants to let the world about it in his volume? This type of thing may have been effective in 84/85 when there were only a few kats carrying those big gray brick lookin cell phones, but in 2009 when EVERYBODY has one?… Nah bruh. Just when I thought ole FlyGuy was finished, he proceeded to pull out a sammich bag full of a red liquid, cracked the bag open and drank from it. I was sitting in my seat with my jaw on the floor like, ‘I KNOW this kat isn’t drinking some damn red Kool-Aid from a sammich bag!!” After no believing what the hell I had just seen, I waited for him to drink from the bag again, just to confirm for my OWN sanity the fact that I wasn’t seeing things. Huggie Bear didn’t disappoint, he tipped his head back and took a swig from the sammich bag one more time just so I could sit there by myself and die laughing while looking crazy. I hopped on Twitter for a hot second and wrote something about it and kats didn’t even believe me. I will say this as many times as it takes… I can NOT make this stuff up y’all….


Oh yeah, rehersal went pretty well too.