When you leave the famously comfortable confines of San Francisco’s Cafe Du Nord, you carry a certain buzzing, Zen calmness—you know it when you feel it. This venue’s good shows bestow that gift. I’ve reached peak Du Nord oneness after witnessing numerous Broun Fellinis shows, Angelo Moore performing sorcery with a Theremin, and even Emma Jean Thackray, who erupted with that (“don’t call it jazz”) good vibe in front of a grotto full of grown-ass man buns last summer.
These moments, those shows, insulate your chi before you ride the N Judah train home.
Those trickster randos’ run-come-test shenanigans? Don’t.
On June 3 at Cafe Du Nord, Nabihah Iqbal, the British-Asian multi-hyphenate, continued the insulation tradition.
Maybe it’s the intimacy of the venue that you feel, like walking down into Middle Earth, like you’re in a neighbor’s basement. They sell not-so-cheap drinks, but book stellar acts worth paying extra to see for the communal, not corporate, experience. Middle Earth for the people.
Iqbal was feeling the warmth.
She bounced, giggled, plucked away at her black-and-white, polka-dot guitar, and smiled for an hour. Food stories about Mission Chinese were shared.
Let it be known that Iqbal is an excellent hang. It’s no surprise that she hosts an NTS radio show and has appeared on BBC networks including Radio 1, 1Xtra, Asian Network, World Service, and 6Music.
Can we get her on the new LIVE 105?
In between sound baths of post-punk, electro, and house-leaning arrangements, she exclaimed how much she loved being back in San Francisco, while flossing that electricity. This was not crowd work, she cited specific reasons. One of them was discovering she had a record divider section at Amoeba Records. Fun fact. I’m always surprised at how enthralling yet complex artists, the ones who make moody, gobsmacking “the world is shite feeling music,” tend to come off quite bubbly in person.
This was the evening’s rhythm, the push-pull dynamic, filling Du Nord’s character-driven rave cave with selections from both Iqbal’s Ninja Tune albums: this year’s DREAMER and 2017’s Weighing of the Heart. That classic Iqbal sketchbook, the moodboard she’s chosen on which to express her feelings about life and heartbreak, shot through a versatile band that shifted from post-punk arrangements circling 1983 to electro house leanings of today.
Nabihah just picked away on guitar as the golden—might I add, The Cure-ish in this live setting—melody of “Dreamer” rolled itself out for the 20-somethings holding cloth bags, tall dudes with fuzzy green sweaters, girlish women frolicking about in long flowering black summer dresses, all stargazing at their vibe merchant.
“That’s probably the only true happy song on the album,” she said to the audience, who laughed along with her. “I tried.”
A cross-section of mostly non-annoying folk. Yes, some did put it down for “Tha ‘Gram,” such is the Faustian bargain we engage when attending live shows these days.
But most just swayed, took in the finite music from a polished, versatile band still finding their way at the early stages of a US tour.
The applause alternated with electro-leaning tracks like “Sunflower,” which had a sub-bass low-end kick that elicited happy Saturday night jeers, and elevated patrons up the stairs and out the door at the end of the concert.
With chi in place.