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Fantastic Negrito strong on stories as well as songs at Lollapalooza

Experience shows in the musician’s engaging Grant Park set.

Fantastic Negrito performs at the Chicago Blues Festival in 2018.
Erin Brown/Sun-Times

Saturday was the day for emerging talent at Lollapalooza, with early risers being treated to a heavy lineup of future stars. There was the phenomenal singer-songwriter Sam Fender, who sounded like a New Wave Morrissey on his track “Play God” (which helped him win a recent Brit Award) followed by his cover of fellow UK moody rockers Oasis. There was also the British songbird Jade Bird, who has mastered the folk-pop hybrid on songs like “I Get No Joy.”

But then there was Fantastic Negrito, who sounds like he’s been playing for a while — which he has. Xavier Dphrepaulezz had a major record deal with Interscope in the ’90s, but after music biz bureaucracy and a near fatal car accident that almost cost him his guitar playing hand, he nearly gave up on music.

It’s performances like today’s — and his appearance at the 2018 edition of the Chicago Blues Fest — that make you thankful he stuck it out, gaining a name for himself again with his NPR Tiny Desk win in 2015.

The ever-charming frontman, who learned to engage a crowd from years of street busking, spun stories into each of the songs, apologizing for the people he robbed after running away from home at 12 in “A Cold November Street,” sounding like a new take on “House Of the Rising Sun.” And telling the story of how his father once told him never to look a Chicago woman in the eye for more than three seconds as a preface to the rockabilly banger “Scary Woman.”

Though Dphrepaulezz has won Grammys for contemporary blues albums, he weaves many music patterns into his tunes, a real James Brown meets B.B. King meets Prince. He also added his soulful take on the much covered “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” dedicating it to “the women of the world that hold the fabric of society together.”

Dphrepaulezz added his political viewpoints a few times in the set, decrying the age of disinformation and people buying into “the greatest commodity in America … fear” before tearing into the song he says he gets the most flak for, called “Transgender Biscuits.” “Listen artists,” he said, “if you’re not getting hate mail you’re not doing your job.”

Sam Fender performs on Day 3 of Lollapalooza in Grant Park on Aug. 3, 2019.
Amy Harris/Invision/AP