I floated into Revolution on Broadway after being carded by a muscle-bound door guy who looked like a member of a hip-hop fraternity. Blood-orange lights hung from the ceiling and created a purplish glow that fell on a crowd of young hipsters scattered throughout the room. I felt I’d entered a red box of a room, with tall, wooden chairs and tables surrounding a large, square bar. The vibe in the room was sensual, perhaps seeping from the hormonal college-age crowd that gathered there.
I had been in San Antonio for more than two years and had not once heard any local hip-hop groups. I don’t know why it took so long for me to learn about Gonsemble, a local hip-hop jazz combo, but someone finally tipped me off to the fact they’d be playing at Revolution late on a Thursday night. I’d visited their MySpace account earlier in the day, listened to a few song clips, and I was hooked.
I had some time to explore the scene before Gonsemble set up to perform, and the energy in the air sort of lifted me around the place. There was a DJ in the main room, but when I snaked my way around the bar I found that there were two more rooms. One was a small pool room, jarring in its bright contrast to the dark room I’d come from and devoid of the charm that room possessed. It merely connected the two main rooms. I passed quickly through it into the other dark atmosphere which was more modern-artsy. Another DJ was fast at work in this room (I seem to remember hearing some Madonna) and a small dance floor under purple swirling lights was occupied by a lone couple who appeared to be dry-humping more than dancing. It was a trip.
As I made my way back into the main room, I clumsily bumped into the door frame. Just on the other side, a long-haired guy caught my foul and had to pick on me. “There’s a wall there,” he joked. “Yeah, I know,” I replied. I hurried back to my chair to see Gonsemble setting up in the corner. They were a rather large group, filling up the stage and the space surrounding it. Watching them take their places behind various instruments, I became more excited and curious about the show that was about to happen. I didn’t really know who was who because so many names were listed on their MySpace account. The impression I got by comparing the MySpace description to the men setting up onstage was that members wear many different hats, morphing into different roles at different shows.
My friend informed me that one of the two founding brothers of Gonsemble was not present. There was a youthful, handsome bassist who looked like a cross between Usher and Mos Def. There was a keyboard player wearing a Doors Tee-shirt (a Ray Manzarek fan, perhaps?), another keyboard player with pretty eyes facing the stage in a sort of timid way, a drummer tucked away in the corner of the stage, and a DJ squeezed in at the other corner. They were all tuning and clanging until the last two, the vocalists, finally took the stage. I noticed that one of the vocalists was the jokester who’d mocked me just minutes before. But I wasn’t offended. I’d rather be laughed at to my face.
There was a brief flurry of activity around the stage as everyone got into place. And then the experience began.
Gonsemble launched into their first song and I was a true believer. As one song led into another, the energy of the music built upon itself. Fans swarmed to the stage, singing along with every word and nodding to the beat like bobbleheads. The lead vocalist, Karl Centeno, looked like a gangsta rapper but sang like D’Angelo and scatted like Ella Fitzgerald. His sidekick for the night would rap over his vocals, and the rest of the guys grooved to his lead.
Karl was a Renaissance man onstage, jumping between silky vibrato and soul-smashing trumpet. And he could scream on key! The closer I moved my way to the performers, the more enraptured I became. I’d lost track of time and didn’t care.
For what seemed like hours, Gonsemble jammed non-stop, spraying their guts out on every song. The crowd caught the energy from the stage and we were all drawn into their sweat and frenzy like bees. A performance like this could not have been rehearsed. A bare-bones structure must’ve been ironed out ahead of time, but the music displayed from that stage was raw. Raw and sticky.
Gonsemble stopped playing only when the bartenders had to kick everyone out. We’d shut the place down. When I got home that night and sunk into bed, I was not worried about how early I’d have to get up for work in the morning. I knew I’d sleep perfectly.