The Foreign Exchange Unites Austinites

From the outside, The North Door located on East 5th Street doesn’t look very inviting. Not only does its name sound like a clue from the Underground Railroad, but the unimpressive structure looks more like a jail from an old Western than a music venue.

However, as Meek Mills said before his untimely demise, “There’s levels to this,” and you’ll find hidden just a few steps down a hall, through a black curtained entrance, a spacious room bathed in a soft pink glow. This was the sacred place in which The Foreign Exchange blessed Austin with a transformative performance on Jun. 21.

To put it simply, the show was un-be-liev-able!

Originally a duo consisting of frontman Phonte Coleman and Dutch producer Nicolay, The Foreign Exchange has grown in size and sound since its inception in 2002. The addition of two backup singers, a bass player, a keyboardist, and a drummer (each accomplished in his or her own right) has transformed the band into a 7-piece powerhouse whose energy rivals the most spirit-filled Baptist church service. Their North Door set — an expertly paced thriller— whipped the crowd into a frenzy with a setlist that juxtaposed the highs of life to the lows of love. In a matter of moments, we went from two-stepping to contemplating regret and back.

The Foreign Exchange is a 7-piece powerhouse whose energy rivals the most spirit-filled Baptist church service.

The music was a relentless wave of rich sound filled with subtle nuances and layered with hints of Jazz, R&B, Hip-Hop, and electronica. However, it was the comedy stylings of Phonte that elevated the show to boss level. Between sets, Phonte maintained the energy by offering unsolicited bits of ratchet wisdom and relationship advice (like “Be as respectfully disrespectful to your woman’s body as possible.”) and weaving in playful jabs at soul-singer KEM by inserting surprisingly good impersonations and “Love Calls” lyrics wherever he could. Nothing, however, could match the unveiling of the new Negro National Anthem “Put Some Respeck on It,” a gospel parody of the now infamous Birdman interview with the Breakfast Club. I cried real tears.

A good concert entertains, but a great show changes you. This was one of the greatest shows I have ever attended. The crowd was composed of diverse people — blipsters, hipsters, dappers, young, and old– mingling politely while maintaining an awareness of each other’s personal space. But by the end of the nearly 2-hour set, we were a rowdy tribe of savages bound together by an unforgettable shared experience. The Foreign Exchange crafted a moment that unified everyone in The North Door, despite an array of differences. As the music concluded and The Foreign Exchange left the stage, it was hard to accept that the show was over.

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