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Review: Theophilus London @ Johnny Brenda’s

With London’s ’90s throwback gear, those retro-inspired beats, and the gaggle of beach blond sorority types rushing the stage, the Theophilus London show on Tuesday night felt like some raucous scene in the middle of a Fresh Prince episode: Aunt Viv leaves Will home alone for the weekend, and he invites the most ridiculous, fresh-to-death rapper to kick off the best house party known to man.

That was the atmosphere at JB’s, and Theophilous, nothing if not a showman, played to the crowd’s desire to get down and party like finals were over. From bringing a rowdy girl on stage to serenade her during new track “Lisa,” a ’90s slow jam reminiscent of LL Cool J’s old school romantic tracks, to crowd surfing and inviting some chosen ladies to dance on stage during a club remix of “Last Name London,” this game came ready to really have a good time. He even gave roses out to some lucky ladies during a little break before his encore, where the DJ played some tracks from the mid ’00s that had most of the place singing right along (how long has it been since you heard “Foolish” by Ashanti or “U Don’t Have to Call” by Usher?).

Who care’s if we have class (or work…) the next day? Theophilus is on – you’ll call in late.

Though he borrowed the guitarist and bassist from opening act Phony Ppl for a great deal of the show, many numbers felt empty without the assistance of a live band. While the live additions were useful in filling out the sound (especially the bassist, who made “Why Even Try”), the DJ alone couldn’t reproduce everything. Imagine the rocking sound of “I Stand Alone” or “All Around the World” with a full kit and two guitarists? That shit would have blown the roof off of the place. But with a DJ simply playing a back track with vocals often included, sometimes it felt like listening to a really talented guy do karaoke. “Why Even Try,” one of my favorite tunes from this guy, felt somehow incomplete without Sara Quinn (from Tegan & Sara) singing live. Any live vocalist would have done — it just felt incredibly odd listening to a pre-recorded track in a place that’s seen some great live music.

But even through these limitations, it was great to see this guy really perform. New tracks, including “Pinky and the Brain” (which samples from the cartoon’s theme song) and “Big Spender” (which borrows from the Shirley Bassey classic) are destined to be club bangers. Heavy on bass and full of energy that reminds one of the rap coming out of ATL a few years ago, they signal a slight effort to place the smooth TL on the bench for one quarter and let the harder guy play point guard.

That said, he closed with his take on Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You,” solidifying his Lothario image. I’m sure if he pulled a couple of those sorority types backstage and asked, as he does in one of the nights tracks, to see her pretty (you fill in the blank), they’d do as the woman in the song does and say…“Okay!”

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