It seems that many of the better shows that have come around New York City this summer have been those that come around with little notice and often end up costing very little for the lucky fans that get to see them. It has been a more and more common occurrence to have brands (or a few) put their resources into throwing the best party possible, usually aided by live performances. It seems only natural that liquor companies would have a major stake in presenting these types of shows.
So when buzz began growing earlier last week about 901 Tequila’s big party at Irving Plaza on Thursday, it only helped the cause to have a name such as Justin Timberlake attached to the event. Not only does Timberlake have a large stake in the tequila itself as one of the founders, but the band chosen to be in the spotlight at the party was a Memphis group called FreeSol, whose album drops next week on Tenmen Records, the label that also happens to belong to Timberlake. Add JT’s week-long social media hype leading up to the show as well as a surprise appearance from FreeSol and Timberlake at the the restaurant Southern Hospitality (also owned by Timberlake, not a bad life) and it’s a pretty safe bet to expect something big in store for “National 901 Day.”
If you are new to Fresol give them a listen below while you continue reading.
But by 9:01, on 9/01 (the promotional team went a bit wild with this one), there were still well over a thousand people waiting outside for the 901 Tequila party, while the inside of Irving Plaza remained empty and tequila remained undrunk. Trying to allow 1,000 guests into a free concert with this kind of anticipation is a difficult task that certainly could have been organized better and became about an hour and a half process from the moment the first people on the guest list entered until the club reached capacity from a slow-moving line wrapping around Irving Place and 16th Street.
As people tricked inside, a pretty lively DJ set filled the room as people congregated towards the bar, many disappointed after being under the impression that tequila would flow freely for all guests (not that $13 for a full cup of tequila can be viewed as a bad deal in New York, but to each their own). Once the projection screen was raised around 10:30 people seemed to budge little from their spots in regard to the stage, quickly rendering the tequila issue moot.
After a brief introduction and a few words about 901 Tequila, FreeSol was revealed to be with another guest from their native Memphis (901 area code if you’re noticing an emerging pattern), Justin Timberlake who was tucked in the back on the keys, but hardly unnoticed. It certainly helps to have some recognizable names on your side in the music business; JT described them as ‘real musicians’ later in the set, but it was certainly evident that these guys backed up that claim.
FreeSol has a unique hip-hop sound that’s entwined with a strong rock and funk presence that becomes especially more noticeable in their live show. For around 30 minutes, the band went through some of their own material, much of which you can expect to see on their forth-coming album ‘Rock N Rolla’. Despite the fact that much of the crowd were likely there because of a certain other ‘surprise guest’ on the bill, the energy was tremendous from the moment the curtain opened. It helped that many of their songs sample some rather familiar tracks such as Gorillaz “Feel Good, Inc.” and Smashing Pumpkin’s “1979.”
After about 30 minutes of FreeSol performing their own material with Timberlake backing on vocals and keys; the former Mouseketeer and 1/5 of N’Sync exited the stage, while the group jumped into a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of.” This cover definitely showed a more versatile side of this group. While lead vocalist and rapper Free did an excellent job switching up styles for this track, guitarist Elliott Ives really took this as a moment to shine in center stage.
As FreeSol was recovering from this energetic track, Timberlake walked out once more; this time with an acoustic guitar strapped over his shoulder. The rest of the stage was dimmed as the spotlights took aim and a soft glow emanated from the sea of smart phones in the crowd. From here, Timberlake performed some stripped down versions of his hits, including “Cry Me A River,” “Like I Love You,” and “What Goes Around” as well as the hook from his collaboration with T.I., “Dead & Gone.” Timberlake took some time in between songs to say a few words and seemed to be genuinely pleased to be back on a stage with a crowd completely eating up his older material. He allowed the crowd to relieve him from vocals at times even joking “I’m too old for this shit” after strumming away at “Like I Love You” for a bit.
The highlight of the night came as the lights zoomed back out to focus on the whole stage as FreeSol jumped into a killer take of the Rolling Stone’s “Miss You,” still with Timberlake on lead vocals. Bassist Premo Danger provided some thumping bass lines throughout this track which provided the perfect backdrop for Timberlake’s smooth voice to transition back to Free’s own freestyle culminating at the end of the song. With the energy at a high level, FreeSol went into their biggest track yet, “Don’t Give It Away,” which was featured on the last season of Entourage. The evening would conclude with one more track in which Timberlake even helped out on some of the rapping duties for “Role Model.”
Even though Timberlake was a major reason for people coming out for “National 901 Day,” FreeSol made a huge splash and undoubtedly caught a lot of attention from this gig. While it helps having friends in high places, this Memphis group certainly stepped up and made a case for themselves. Timberlake seemed thrilled to be on stage performing and even appeared to rejoice in taking a ‘backseat’ for the majority of the show. While he may not be producing hits as regularly as some people may wish; he genuinely enjoys everything that he represents. His talents as an entertainer are undeniable and it was a special treat to see him along with FreeSol and 999 other lucky fans.
Written by Jesse Zryb
More photos at JesseZryb.com