Recap: Madison McFerrin and Deem Spencer headline crowd-pleasing performance at Friday Night Rock

by Jordan McDonald | 1/23/18 1:00am

Friday Night Rock hosted a concert this weekend featuring soul artist Madison McFerrin and rap artist Deem Spencer in a continuation of its efforts to bring live music to campus. Founded in 2004, FNR began when a group of Dartmouth students, frustrated with the absence of live music at the College, came together in a collective effort to fill the void. As of 2013, Friday Night Rock shows take place in Sarner Underground, a venue with a 300-person capacity and professional staging, audio and lighting capabilities.

On Friday night, my friend and I attended an FNR show for the first time. As a D.C. native, I have become accustomed to living in a major city with many concerts and venues to offer. Upon arriving in Hanover, I also came to realize what the FNR founders learned about the difficulty of finding live music at and near the College. I had taken for granted the amount of live music and performances that were accessible to me back home. So I was excited to see what bands FNR would bring to campus, hoping that intimate shows in Sarner would come to satisfy my hunger for live music in the ways that my hometown’s 9:30 Club had for so long.

McFerrin, a singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, New York, took the stage first. McFerrin was a bubbly presence, inviting the audience to come closer and sharing stories about herself throughout the length of her set. She opened her performance with a cover of Britney Spears’ immortal classic “Toxic.” Her take on the song was electric, illiciting new dimensions from the early 2000s hit. After warming up the crowd, McFerrin to performed songs from her debut EP released in December 2016, entitled “Finding Foundations: Vol. I,” and later shared a few songs from her upcoming studio project, “Finding Foundations, Vol. II.”

Performing her own music, McFerrin glowed. Her voice and creativity were in full showcase, revealing her musical style described by music reviewers as a soulful interpretation of a cappella.

The New York Times noted that McFerrin “shows wonderful vocal dexterity, deftly swerving from sharp, clearly enunciated staccato bursts to fluttery, free-form melismata.” Having seen her in person, I am inclined to agree with such flowery language.

Though I was unfamiliar with McFerrin’s work, I was mesmerized by the unique quality of her voice as she constructed her songs in real time. Looping her voice into her backtrack, McFerrin guided the audience through her creative process. During each song, she would step on her loop pedal and brought to life a full-bodied performance with just a bit of technological assistance. In addition to sharing her sheer talent, McFerrin shared her personality stopping to quip about her dreams and setbacks. By the end of her set, the audience was inspired by her beautiful voice and the woman who wielded it so well.

Spencer followed McFerrin, bringing a different energy to the stage altogether. Hailing from Jamaica, Queens, Spencer’s music consisted of raw reflections on his journey growing up in New York City. Embracing an emotional ruggedness, Spencer’s music carried the emotional weight of heavy introspection. As a rap artist, Spencer’s music diverges from the Atlanta trap-inspired moment that has come to inform popular rap music in 2018.

Spencer’s style is stripped down, bare with little enhancement. While exploring many of the topics that consume art — love, loss, pain and struggle — Spencer offer his own brash take on the art of remembering. There was an urgency to his music that was visceral and undeniable, bringing the night to a close with intensity throughout the set.

At the end, I left the show refreshed. Live music has always been a stabilizing force in my life, and after my first few weeks of Hanover winter and classes, it was nice to attend such a high-energy event. FNR provided me with an alternative to mundanities like the weather and homework, and for that I am grateful.