Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ghostpoet, Band on the Wall, Manchester 26th November 2015 8/10

Live music proved to be a necessary nourishment of the soul last night, and Cumbria's support act Junk Son almost immediately transported me. Their intense, intellectual dark pop matched my mood perfectly, and vocalist Amy Spencer conjured up echoes of Portishead. The groovy rhythms were a bridge to the main act, but alas a section of the audience chose not to surrender to their hypnotic minimalism and instead talked over the music. This gig was sold out, and the anticipation was understandable, coming days after the Mercury Prize announcement. Ghostpoet may have missed out on a victory for the second time, but few amongst this audience could have felt disappointed in the judge's boldness in honouring the boldly original Benjamin Clementine. In fact, his gig in Salford next week is a fund raiser for this very venue.

Ghostpoet may not have been celebrating a win, but he was both marking the end of a UK tour for the third album Shedding Skin, and warming up to support Alt-J in a huge Manchester exhibition centre on Sunday. I was most impressed with his act in a similarly vast tent at Parklife in June, and Obaro Ejimiwe has clearly adapted his stagecraft to reach out to large audiences. Yet, the magic of this particular experience owed much to the intimate space of Band On The Wall. His rapport with the audience stems from a respect and love for fans: for example he came straight into the centre of the  audience after the encore last night to pose for the obligatory selfies. Ghostpoet even made unplanned physical contact with the audience when he fell off the stage at the end of the main set, his fall broken by fans. This demonstrates an evident passion and energy: he spent much of his 90 minute performance dancing, and gesticulating, but chose to the music to speak for itself rather than make conversation between songs.

Much has been made of a departure in the third album towards an indie rock style, away from electronica: The Guardian even described it as 'Radiohead tinged'. There's certainly a greater place for guitars and and synths, alongside minimal beats in the new material, exemplified in Pleasure in Pleather.  Whilst his vocal range is relatively limited, with a low pitch and tendency towards spoken enunciation, Ghostpoet is at pains to emphasise that he is not an MC. This show felt very much a collaborative, band effort: in particular the female vocalist and keyboard player added atmosphere in the tracks such as X Marks The Spot, which in the studio featured Nadine Shah. This was the point last night when the performance really took flight. The material ranged widely over the three albums, yet felt coherent, suggesting that talk of a radical departure in Shedding Skin has been emphasised.

 Ghostpoet's lyrics are often gritty and down to earth, but always sincere: Off Peak Dreams, for example, which closed the main set, tackles the subject of homelessness, whilst he often explores themes of alienation, and even domestic violence. He told the BBC: 'I'm always wary when people describe it as political. I definitely wanted to write lyrics that were socially aware'. His unique, poetic style of delivery also adds to the intensity. Yet, live, the overall effect is surprisingly joyous: there were few moments when the audience remained still, and Ghostpoet's energy, passion, and love were infectious. One of my highlights was That Ring Down The Drain Feeling: not only did the dark sentiment speak to me last night, but its 90's trip hop influence showed a lack of regard for genre boundaries. Ghostpoet is an original, creative blend of styles, which exemplifies the cultural richness and openness of contemporary British indie music showcased at the Mercury Awards.

Set List
  • Garden Path
  • Better Not Butter
  • X Marks The Spot
  • Survive It
  • That Ring Down The Drain Feeling
  • Pleasure in Pleather
  • Be Right Back, Moving House
  • 12 Deaf
  • Shedding Skin
  • Yes, I Helped You Pack
  • Cold Win
  • Sloth Trot
  • Cash and Carry
  • Meltdown
  • Off Peak Dreams
  • Us Against Whatever
  • Liiines
Junk Son (support act)

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