Chi-town native Jesse Boykins oozes soul from the groovy, organic sound of his music to his “throwback” 60’s-styled wardrobe to the way he moves on stage. I’m admittedly not very familiar with his catalog, but I’ve heard way too many good things about Boykins’ work not attend his headlining Heineken-sponsored show at the intimate Philly club, Silk City.
I’d estimate the venue to be a roughly 200 person capacity, and it was nearly maxed out when I arrived before the show even started. Like all Heineken Green Room events, free beer was served at the bar for the whole show, which created a loose, fun atmosphere amongst the crowd. Last year I opened for legendary NYC rapper Roc Marciano at a Green Room event (also at Silk City) so I was somewhat surprised that there were no openers for this one. The only pre-Boykins entertainment was Illvibe Collective leader Mr. Sonny James spinning bangers and classics while the audience settled in and prepared to be serenaded by the man they came to see.
The crowd was prominently women, with about a 70/30 ratio in favor of the fairer sex. At an R&B show, this is less than surprising, but I was still not privy to the sheer amount of appeal Jesse Boykins has when it comes to the 20 and 30-something female demographic. As soon as his name was announced, a collective, decidedly feminine sounding eruption from the crowd indicated that they were ready to see him do his thing.
Boykins was backed by a simple two-piece band made up of a drummer and six-string bass player. After the opening joint, it was already clear that both of these fellas knew what they were doing. I’m actually fortunate enough to have played with Boykins’ drummer for the night, James “Jer-Z” Mason, so I was already aware of his awe-inspiring skills behind the set; however, Boykins’ bass player (whom I unfortunately did not get the name of) was on fire for the nearly one hour long set, keeping the grooves in the perfect pocket with just the right amount of flavor added when needed.
A quality backing band is necessary for a quality performance, but the front man needs to be on point as well, and Boykins was certainly that. He hit the stage, clad in an acid washed denim button up with a simple graphic of his logo against a cloudy blue sky, projected on the screen behind him. The 30-year-old’s energy was contagious as he made full use of the small Silk City stage. The sleeves of his sparkly undershirt were glittering under the house lights, outshining the large disco ball suspended in the middle of the room. The singer/songwriter’s sweat was visible from the back of the bar, as his larger-than-life hair became more and more unruly with each song, swaying freely in the air to the point it nearly took the attention off of Boykins’ performance. A little over a half hour into his set he had shed his denim, knowing he still had a solid 20 or so minutes left; as a seasoned veteran, Boykins was aware that he had to pace himself.
I would not describe Boykins’ voice as particularly standout or overly unique like a John Legend or Maxwell, but more of a silky smooth croon that rides any given riff comfortably, similar to a Bilal or D’Angelo. His falsetto is not quite as strong live as theirs, but Boykins was clearly still in his element the entire time on stage, and I would say Silk City’s intimate setting helped with that. Halfway through his set, I noticed an excess of talking amongst the crowd around me (some of Boykins’ work did seem to run together a bit too much over the course of the set), but it didn’t last long as he quickly captured the wall-to-wall fans’ attention back via some impressive vocal work and charismatic between-song banter.
Boykins ran through all of his more well-known tracks new (“The Wonder Years”) and old (“I Can’t Stay”), and of course made sure to play his hit from last year “Show Me Who You Are”. A good portion of concert-goers sang along to the hooks of every one of these tracks, which is always a clear indicator of top-notch crowd control. Boykins even brought an audience member on stage to sing “Happy Birthday” to her as his fans joined in. This added to Boykins’ already likable, positive personality and “everyman” persona.
The last song of Boykins’ set, another hit from last year “B4 The Night Is Thru,” evoked the strongest response, as the crowd not only sang along with the hook, but also jumped up and down with arms raised for almost the entire length of the song, shaking the walls of the tiny nightclub. As I already admitted, I’m not overly familiar with his albums, but after this enjoyable set I am certainly interested in hearing more of Jesse Boykins on record.
While he had Silk City packed out, his relatively low YouTube view and social media follower counts show that he is not yet at the level he deserves to be, judging by his talent. But after soaking in this set and seeing what a dedicated cult following he has, I am confident that Mr. Boykins will be just fine. As long as he keeps his records consistent and his live shows as strong as this one, the sailing ahead looks to be as smooth as his soulful sound.
All Photos: Daniel Wooden (www.photohumper.com)
Here is a quick glimpse into the world of Boykins.
article by Mike Voss