Chocolate Genius Inc. at The Bootleg Theater

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Chocolate Genius Inc. is an enigma. The musical project of New York artist Marc Anthony Thompson performed last night at Bootleg Theater to an attentive and intrigued audience, and I’m fairly certain that the majority of the audience left with more questions about his origins and inner workings than they arrived with. He began the set alone at a piano, and by the end of the second song the rest of his bandmates had joined him on the upright bass, drums, electric guitar, and keys. He remained front and center with his unusually raspy voice and acoustic guitar, and the audience was almost completely silent in anticipation of what he would say or sing next. In short, he illustrated the difference between a musician and a true performing artist. The music tended to fall into one of two categories: anitfolk ballads in 6/8 with atmospheric electric guitar lines or sexy midtempo R&B grooves that garnered roars and claps before each song was fully finished. For a sample of the latter, be sure to check out the video for “Enough for You” below.

 

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I’m not really sure what was more riveting: the musical performance or what was said between songs. The music itself blended folk, blues, and soul in new and unusual combinations that defied categorization. The band was made up of musicians who knew how to inject feeling into their parts in a way that adds to the music without overshadowing the lead singer, and the atypical instrumentation went well with the nontraditional subject matter. What do I mean by “nontraditional”? Where do I begin? There were themes of lost love and soul searching, but the phrases used to express those themes were often bizarre, abrasive, and dark. There was no lack of uncomfortable squirming and nervous laughter in the audience, and his lyrics seemed designed with the sole purpose of stimulating creative thought.

Between songs, he made humorous jabs at KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, Los Angeles nightlife, and of course, himself. He admitted that he “obviously didn’t know the value of commerce, or we would all be drinking Cristal“. He kept a running dialogue between himself and the audience throughout the show, not just to keep the energy going but to maintain his connection with the crowd via their undivided attention. At the end of the show, I still wasn’t sure what to make of the performance and where it fit into our current musical universe.  But a few things seem certain: Chocolate Genius Inc. is unwilling to adhere to any set of agreed-upon standards, and their music is a celebration of their intense creativity. Chocolate Genius Inc. performs next on Tuesday March 15th at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. For more information on tickets and other tour dates, please visit his Myspace page here.