The rain pouring down on South Cayuga Street was chilling Thursday. But inside the Wildfire Lounge, the high-energy performance by Syracuse-based hip-hop group Sophistafunk made the crowd forget about their umbrellas and focus on the upcoming freedom of the weekend.
Music from the opening band Mutron Warriors came in a torrent like the cold March rain outside, shaking the floors and vibrating in the chests of anyone within range of the horns and amplifiers. It was powerful and demanded the attention of everyone in the room. The seven-piece funk and soul band sparked the crowd with high-energy beats and tons of personality.
The Mutron Warriors’ act was spearheaded by a soulful and bold vocal performance from Elisa Sciscioli. Her vibrant voice combined with the baritone trombone was an excellent choice for the opening act. Judging by the audience’s reaction, the Mutron Warriors could have played all night. Setting the tone for the evening with grooves influenced by Sly and the Family Stone or James Brown, the band raised expectations for the evening. As soon as the music started, the crowd suddenly grew as new faces from the downpour outside peeled off their raincoats and joined the twisting and winding fray.
For now, this was the place to be. With the blaring and energizing music, it was hard to see how the headlining act could possibly measure up to the couples’ hopes, who now packed the dance floor.
Sophistafunk keyboard player, Adam Gold, joined the Mutron Warriors for their set. Meanwhile, vocalist for Sophistafunk, Jack Brown, looked on with approval at the scene while drummer Emanuel Washington danced.
As if they were racing to a finish line, musicians Gold and Washington took to their respective instruments gleefully without hesitation. Together the keys, bass and drums provided a sound far more creative and spacious than the sampling and mixing typical of most live hip-hop performances. To have original music created by the performers at a hip-hop show was refreshing and made the act even more diverse.
Washington and Gold locked in with each other, creating crisp fills, bridges and choruses that flowed organically from the twinkling vintage keyboard to wild and rambunctious funk music. The music was never crass or abrasive, like most hip-hop music is accused of. Rather, it was energizing for listeners, who responded with their body language, swaying back and forth. Best of all, the keys and drums created an environment for Brown to explore and play with his vocals, giving the crowd a true sensation of unrecorded, live music.
Brown’s lyrical delivery matched the music with ease — a free-spirited style reminiscent of The Roots, The Coup or early De La Soul. His lyrics were full of positive energy and insight, delivered in a low, confident and conversational tone. Brown was consistent in his performance and maintained his composure and vocal stamina while performing a set list that, with the exception of a brilliant and appropriate cover of Afrika Bambaataa’s “Renegades of Funk,” was completely original. Brown’s vibrant mix of spoken-word poetry, hip-hop and funk lyrics was the finishing touch to a performance that thoroughly exhibited many of the influences of the group.
Sophistafunk has established a reputation in Syracuse and now has a loyal fan base in Ithaca. As the recent winner of Syracuse’s Big Break Contest, the group has performed with names as big as Fergie, Asher Roth and KRS-ONE. Sophistafunk’s performance in Ithaca, while it lacked the degree of hype as one alongside the same artists who made hits like “Clumsy” or “I Love College,” did show that the trio knows how to maximize its energy and stage presence in a subdued environment without losing any of its spunk.