Concert Review: Rahim Quazi CD Release Party

Photo by Gary Audirsch

It was a night for Rahim Quazi that was seven years in the making.  That’s how long it has been since he released his last album, Supernatural.  Over the years, Rahim had to delay the release date for the follow up album more times than I care to recall.  Last week, the wait for Rahim and his fans came to an end with the release of Ghost Hunting.  He booked the CD release show months in advance for Kessler Theater, a difficult room for any local artist to fill.  What’s so amazing is that on a Wednesday night, the highly talented singer-songwriter who has for years gone under the radar for much of the local media (GOBL being a notable exception) managed a standing room only crowd at the Kessler.  It was a night of entertainment that will not be forgotten.

The night of music began with Mark Landson on violin, and was accompanied by tap dancer Katelyn Harris.  The duo performed two songs together, and the combination of music and dance was a charming way to start off the night.  Once Ms. Harris stepped off the stage, Mr. Landson brought out the rest of his group, Neo Camerata.  To be honest, The Ghost isn’t the biggest classical music fan, so I went into the performance with a healthy serving of skepticism.  Neo Camerata didn’t just exceed my expectations; they shattered them into the tiniest fragments possible.  While the group only played three songs, the musicianship and passion of all the performers on stage brought a fire to the songs that’s usually found only in the world of rock n’ roll.  Neo Camerata brought all the intensity of classical music, but packaged it in a format that was easily accessible for the audience to absorb.  Mr. Landson’s banter and analysis between songs brought a more relaxed and comfortable feel to the set than what is expected of classical performances.  Landson is the director/”brain child” of Open Classical, as well as the hosts of the classical open mic every Tuesday at the Buzzbrews on Lemmon Avenue.  After seeing his work with Neo Camerata, I am convinced that I need to see what all the Buzz is about (pardon the pun).

Next up was Wesley Geiger.  He was backed by The Texas Gentlemen, featuring members of Dovetail and Larry (g)EE.  First of all, let me say that he put on a very enjoyable performance.  Songs like “Isaac Newton” and “El Dorado” (the title track to his album) are intelligent, well-crafted songs which show Mr. Geiger to be worthy of repeat listens.  Having said that, Neo Camerata set the energy level at a level so high that Geiger’s performance was not able to match thir intensity.  Having said that, I still enjoyed his set and would welcome the opportunity to hear him perform again.  I think that he’d work well on a bill alongside such acts as Pleasant Grove, Bad Mountain, or The Venetian Sailors.  I do know that this fall, he’ll be opening for Leon Bridges at The Majestic, which certainly suggests that Mr. Geiger has developed a strong fan base.

Once Mr. Geiger left the stage, once could practically feel the eager anticipation for Rahim’s set filling the air in the room.  After what felt like a very long wait, a spokesperson for The 6th of May Foundation came out to introduce Rahim.  She stated that a portion of all ticket sales went to the foundation, which works to provide grants, exposure, and other assistance to a variety of organizations that help children.  After her introduction, the band came out in silence, as a video was projected on the screen.  The video was recorded by Rahim at a house in Jefferson, Texas over a decade ago.  All that was seen on the video was the house, and you could Rahim speak to his daughter Jessica throughout it.  The footage set an appropriately eerie tone for the evening, and as the video progressed, guitarist Cory Helms created some haunting ambient noises on his guitar, only intensifying the mood.  The video culminated in a mysterious sound whose presence could not be explained, leaving the viewer to surmise that the house was indeed haunted.  You could hear the screams of Rahim and Jessica at the end, after which the band immediately launched into “Ghost Hunting”.  The song, which explores how we can be “ghosts” in relations, set the tone for the entire evening.  Rahim put every bit of his emotional being into this and every song that followed thereafter.

As the night progressed, Rahim shared the story behind many of his songs.  “Manna from Heaven” was about a friend of his who was in the hospital with a brain tumor.  He referred to all the moments he shared with him during this time, as well as his recovery, as being the Manna he sang about.  Another song, “Tiny Flowers”, is about children surviving abuse, and the ability to grow and blossom past the pain.  It was during this song he invited his daughter, Jessica, onto the stage.  It was an intensely emotional moment for both father and daughter to perform together, with Jessica in tears of joy.  The mood was lightened afterwards by “Relax, Believe”, which transitioned into an unusually rocking rendition of “Always Be There”.

Next up was my favorite song off the album, “The Things We Do”, a song about the awful things we can do, and our ability to forgive.  In addition to LadyBee and Hannah Cook, who had provided backing vocals throughout the night, Mr. Quazi welcomed two additional vocalist.  The first was Esther D’Entremont, a friend of both Rahim and The Ghost.  The second was Tony Williams, who happens to be the cousin of Kanye West.  Mr. Williams demonstrated none of the over the top theatrics of Mr. West, sticking only to the harmonies, and singing them very well.  The same could be said for Esther, a woman whose talent I was unaware of until that evening.  I am thankful that Rahim provided me the opportunity to discover this talent.

The night continued with more great songs from Ghost Hunting, such as “She Left Me Now”, “I’m Thinking About You”, and “If This Is It”.  The latter song, which featured John Dufilho on drums, is growing to be one of my new favorites off the album.  After “If This Is It”, Dufilho departed from behind the drum kit so Kelly Test could play on “Flying Kites”, the final song off the album.  Before Rahim started the song, he told the audience he may need some help during the song.  The song was dedicated to his friend Emily Javadi, who was killed in February by a drunk driver.  Emily’s loss was devastating to Rahim and to all who knew her.  Many of Emily’s friends in the audience were brought to tears by Rahim’s tribute to her.  You could tell by the look on Rahim’s face that it was a difficult performance for him as well, bringing back memories of the friend he lost.  But the soaring performance of “Flying Kites”, along with the gorgeous backdrop of the peacock photos, proved to be a beautiful and powerful memorial to Ms. Javadi.

After “Flying Kites”, Rahim left the stage, and the crowd was cheering for more.  Neo Camerata returned again for one song, which helped appease the audience’s craving for more Rahim.  After the band finished their song, Rahim returned, but not to the stage.  He came out into the middle of the audience and started performing “Stars Fall Fast” on his acoustic guitar.  The audience members cheered him, hugged him, sang along with him, and it made for a great treat.  Rahim returned to the stage, joined by members of Dovetail, and performed an uplifting and energetic cover of Paul McCartney’s “Let ‘Em In”.  He followed that cover up with his own song, “Supernatural”.  The song always radiates joy, and it did so even more brightly that night.  This song probably was the most enthusiastic sing-along song for the audience of the night.  Considering that this song brought more intensity from the audience than the covers by former Beatles, that tells you all you need to know about how loved Rahim’s song are.  I’ve long maintained that Rahim’s one of the best songwriters in the area, and I think the rest of Dallas is finally about to catch up with The Ghost.

After “Supernatural”, Rahim went back to “where it all began”, as he said, with the title track to Big Black Box.  He ended the night with a cover of John Lennon’s “#9 Dream”, and invited all the musicians who had played earlier that evening, as well as others who were in the audience, to join.  It was a fitting way to end the evening, as the entire night was a dream come true for Rahim.  After seven long and often grueling years for Rahim, he not only released his album, but managed a standing room only show at Kessler.  Rahim gave thanks to Rawlins Gilliland and Katelyn Harris, both of which managed the same SRO feat, and inspired him to do the same.  Mr. Quazi’s accomplishment is no small feat, especially for a local musician to do on a Wednesday night no less.  The performance was a joyous triumph which I will not attempt to explain.  I will say that the story’s cover photo, taken by Gary Audirsch, does a better job capturing the mood than I ever could.

I do not say this lightly, but it was a magical night of music.  Through the course of this performance, Rahim managed the impossible paradox of creating a show that was simultaneously over the top and dramatic as well as emotionally intimate.  The year’s not even halfway over, but Rahim’s concert last Wednesday will be the standard by which all other shows will have to be measured against to be 2015’s best concert.  Rahim hinted that he’s working on a follow up to Ghost Hunting right now, and promised that it would not take another seven years to release the next album.  Rahim, I’m holding you to that.  We’re ready for whatever wild musical rides you want to take us on the next time around.

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