Quick observation about a Dumbfoundead show: it’s all about the build-up.

After the prerequisite security checks, the audience is ushered into the venue, the Bronze Peacock Room of the legendary House of Blues. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., an hour before the show actually begins. Already people are anxious for the concert to start: some opting to suppress their excitement with a little liquid relaxation, others filling that void of empty anticipation with conversation.

After an hour of this, music wafting from speakers at the corners of the stage, people milling about in different levels of sobriety, DJ Zo, Dummy’s close friend and partner in music for over ten years, makes his unassuming presence known to an already buzzing audience. He gears up for his set, making sure all his presets are ready (and his beer is at a safe enough distance to not disrupt his equipment, but close enough when he too is in need of a little liquid encouragement).

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The moment he sets foot on that small-ish stage, all hell breaks loose.

Zo plays a satisfying mix of Top 40 hip-hop and a few pop hits to keep the audience entertained. Of course, as this is Texas, he pays homage to the undisputed and incomparable Queen of Tejano: Selena. Combined with a steady mix of reggaeton and salsa-pop, when the notes of both “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” and “Amor Prohibido” stream through his fingers and out among the moving bodies, the entire atmosphere shifts and you can just feel the emotional weight of the occasion. It’s a combination of childhood memories and reverence, giving Zo one of his biggest reactions of the evening.

It doesn’t hurt to throw in a bit of comic relief in the form of the Vanessa Carlton classic “1000 Miles” or Lionel Richie’s “Easy Like Sunday Morning.” It can’t be any clearer that Zo knows his audience. He spins a few K-R&B hits, compliments of Crush and Jay Park, gives the crowd hits from Jessi and DPR Live. He’s determined to keep everyone’s energy elevated.

For all his genius as a DJ, Zo doesn’t let up. The energy is high-octane from note one. Given people are already feeling the tug of tiredness from waiting for the show’s start, an hour-long club party doesn’t help. Even a minor slip-up, in which Zo momentarily forgets where he is (and to be fair, he’d just played in Austin the night before), doesn’t keep the man from churning out banger after banger after banger. The audience is absolutely wiped out by the time he fades into the first few notes of a song from Houston’s special guest: Nafla.

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Needless to say, the fatigue doesn’t last long.

Nafla is a new artist for me. Not in name, but I’d never actually taken a moment to listen to him. Diminutive in stature, the Pasadena native cuts a slight silhouette. Against the pervasive fog pumping through a machine stage-left, it would be easy for him to get lost in all the theatrics. But this isn’t an inexperienced man we’re dealing with. His stage presence speaks of someone who knows how to work a crowd, and he does so with an incredible amount of class.

He’s animated, moving freely and without any of the reservations you’d expect from someone who’s never performed in front of a Texas audience. No hesitation, no fear. He allows the music to move him, a sort of euphoria washing over him when he moves from song to song. Even stopping for a sip of water here and there doesn’t disrupt the flow of his performance. He’s soft-spoken, unassuming like Zo. But he basks in the adulation, soaking up every ounce of his 30 minutes on stage. He’s an absolute dream to photograph.

 

Before we know it, Nafla’s set comes to an end. For the first time in nearly two and half hours (from doors open to the end of Nafla’s performance), the audience is given a bit of a reprieve. However, in the time it takes to exhale, Year of the Ox brings so much fire it damn near singes the eyebrows of everyone in the front row.

YOX have been on the road with the Yikes! Tour for quite some time. They even made an unexpected appearance in Austin the night before — a stop they weren’t slated to make. When they take the stage it’s like an eruption. If you can believe it, they’re even more rambunctious in Houston than they were the previous night. They take a moment between songs to ask the crowd, “Are y’all ready to see Dumbfoundead.” At the expected wall of cheers, JL proclaims, “Shut the fuck up!” Oh … YOX didn’t come to play.

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Their interaction with the crowd is impeccable. As you stand there enraptured by their unwavering energy, entranced with Lyricks’s antics, completely slapped stupid with the utter mastery of their lyricism and delivery, you feel an undeniable sense of connection. JL and Lyricks are talking to you as if you are an audience of one. They wrap you in their power, their indefatigable spirit, and you’re at once mesmerized and humbled.

An absolute barrage of hits — from the bravado of “Stampede” to the piss and vinegar of “Year of the Ox” — consumes every person in attendance. They lead a chant of “Y-O-X!” and a sound like heavy thunder booms through the Bronze Peacock Room as the audience hurdles the letters back at them, shaking the venue at its foundation.

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Again, 30 minutes just doesn’t seem like enough time. But let’s not forget, the headliner of the tour hasn’t even hit the stage yet. So much build-up. So much anticipation. Energy slumps followed by almost heart-stopping spikes. Just as you’re catching the faintest breath … Dummy alights.

What was once a simple stage, small in comparison to many, the DJ booth taking up at least half its space, has long since become the pit of a volcano. Molten lava and fire have been churning from the moment the first person rushed inside the venue. YOX was the catalyst, but when Dummy reaches the stage the eruption is catastrophic.

There’s nothing I could say about Dumbfoundead as an MC that hasn’t been said for the past ten years or so. He’s a veritable master class of lyricism and storytelling, with a delivery that’s all cheek. But put the man in front of an audience and you may as well forget about it.

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His fans adore him, that’s an undeniable fact. If YOX had the people mesmerized, Dummy has them awestricken. It’s not so much that he has a larger-than-life persona. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There’s such an ease with him, a familiarity like being invited to a family dinner and doted on by the matriarch. But it’s that sense of home that inspires people.

Dummy launches into “Protect At All Costs (PAAC),” and the audience is right there with him. Every single word is thrown right back at him, a sort of call-and-response cultivated from years of following his career. No doubt people are there for his music. But what very obviously hooks people to him is just how much he interacts with them.

Throughout his set, he takes moments to actually speak to individual members of the audience. “Anyone in a relationship?” he asks before launching into “You Kill Me.” Couples repeat the lyrics and sway to the dark and quirky love song. Later he asks the audience “Anybody in school?” At a roar of yeses, he asks for majors and gives quips about each one. He even takes a moment to have a little giggle with those who are still in high school, telling the bar, “A round of chocolate milks for all the kids in the audience.” He even proclaims, “I’m gonna give you a Korean lesson” before track “물 (Water).”

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The man is both clever lyrically as well as a performer. Each question is his way of introducing a song. It’s a genius tactic to both interact with the audience and transition from track to track with very little let down.

The atmosphere crackles with electricity, which reaches almost dangerous levels when he invites both Nafla and YOX back on to the stage to perform the last fifteen minutes of his set with him. Twice an overzealous fan manages to get on stage and head-bang for about ten seconds before throwing himself back into the crowd. That’s how much these men have affected every single person there. After three hours of utter insanity, the audience wants more. Dummy, Nafla, and YOX come back to perform “Rocket Man,” leaving the stage obliterated and their crowd utterly destroyed.

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There aren’t enough words, enough space here to express just how magical this night was. Even after the encore, crowd worn out, lining up to the bar for a sip of water, there’s still a heavy buzz. An almost physical sizzle to the air. Videos from venues all over the States are a testament to how crazy the Yikes! Tour has been.

The Yikes! Tour stop in Houston is proof of how much Dummy and every artist that came along with him adore performing in front of their fans. If there’s anything you take away from one of Dummy’s shows, it’s that you’ll leave there forever changed … and ready to pass out.

(Dumbfoundead Official Website, All concert images by Cy.)

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