Forget crowd-surfing and floor-rattling beats—last night's intimate performance by singer-songwriter John Forté was a welcome change of pace for NYC's Highline Ballroom. "I feel like I'm in my living room," joked Forté, who looked like a Rat Pack defector in his black tuxedo and casually untied bow tie. With guests seated and drinking wine under the glow of candle light, the Refugee Camp refugee seemed right at home as he gave listeners a sampling of his revamped brand of thought-provoking folk-rock.
The show was dubbed "Farewell For Now," because next week, Forté is heading to Russia for a nine-week tour he's dubbed "From Brooklyn to Russia With Love!," where he will travel from Moscow to Siberia, performing, recording and collaborating with Russian artists along the way (and keeping an exclusive tour diary for Complex). The night appropriately felt like a going-away party, with Forté and his minimalist band performing fan favorites (including his standout acoustic ballad "Cherry Blossom"), and selections from his new EP From Brooklyn To Russia With Love: The Sampler (which just went on sale at iTunes). He told stories, cracked jokes, and even took a moment in the middle of the show to turn the house lights on and introduce the crowd to his mother.
But the evening's biggest surprise came when Forté announced "I don't usually do this," and launched into a rocked-out version of "Ninety-Nine (Flash The Message)," the single from his 1999 Columbia Records album Poly-Sci. Since leaving prison, he's more or less ignored the more traditional hip-hop music that orginally made him famous, but he had a good-natured smirk on his face as he continued into his memorable verse from Wyclef's 1997 hit "We Trying To Stay Alive." "You have to acknowledge your past before you can move forward," he said.
After the mini-medley, he returned to newer material with his remake of Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)," where he flexed his wisdom-laced wordplay carefully, as if to prove that his lyrical prowess had only gotten tighter over time. He may have moved forward into a new career, but Forté's refreshing "Farewell" show was proof that his talent and charisma can transcend genre and generation.
Be sure to check Complex next week for the beginning of John Forté's exclusive tour diary from Russia.