Based out of Austin, Texas, Anthony Watkins II says he was filling notebooks with melodic ideas and songs even before he knew how to play an instrument. Another account says he learned violin when he was six and trumpet when he was 13, giving him a solid foundation in music theory and structure. He matured beyond the sheet music upon getting a guitar at age 16. For a while, he fronted a band he named Mobley, but commitments are difficult on a low budget, and Watkins found himself without a team. Rather than play solo acoustic sets, Watkins took the name Mobley for himself and blossomed into a one-man band. Mobley has released three EPs; after scrapping two albums, his debut album, Fresh Lies, on which he sang and played all the instruments, is pending.
Mobley's tour brought him to four New York venues this month; tonight's set at a fine new restaurant in the Meatpacking District, Kola House, was Mobley's third local performance. Mobley's vision for his presentation was grander than most newcomers to music: the stage was littered with Mobley's musical instruments and lighting gear, and a large monitor across the room would align his short films with many of his songs. Mobley pressed a button and started the sound and lights. With the help of samples and other pre-programmed backing tracks, Mobley filled his pop-soul songs with cascading layers of grooves and imaginative flourishes, all while singing from the heart and moving from guitar to drums to keyboards. Even slight wardrobe changes (removal of sunglasses, switching of hats) seemed calculated for the young but consummate showman. None of this would be significant except that the songs mattered, with lyrics that examined the perplexity of human relations, both interpersonally and in the world at large. The performance was kinetic and electrifying for both the performer and the audience.
Mobley will perform at Berlin on June 27. In the meantime, visit Mobley at www.mobleywho.com.