The 2nd of January is a pretty awesome date to go see a gig in Melbourne. I’ve seen a few shows on the 2nd that have been gig of the year (or very close to it) come December 31st. Fleet Foxes at the Prince bandroom, Future of the Left at the Corner. I can now add SBTRKT at Billboard to that list.
I’ll admit, I was a little nervous going into the show. I’d missed SBTRKT at the start of 2012 when I couldn’t go to laneway and his sideshow clashed with the Washed Out/Toro Y Moi sideshow (Chet Faker 3rd on the bill! What a gig…); and I’m always nervous about seeing bands on the ‘second lap’ of a tour when they haven’t released another record. Usually by this stage the both the band and the audience are sick of their songs and it can be a bit of a ‘going through the motions’ exercise. Having said that, SBTRKT’s debut record was probably my most listened to album of 2011 and I was pretty keen to see what he was about in the live setting.
Which brings me to my next concern. The show was billed ‘SBTRKT (live)’, which in an electronic setting can mean anything from Holy Fuck or Caribou (spontaneous, visceral) to Girl Talk (pushing play on a laptop and dancing onstage for 40 minutes). It’s fair to say I didn’t know what to expect…
After a nice warm-up slot from Otologic (Plenty of Todd Terje-esque ‘happy house’), the curtain dropped right on the scheduled time of 9.30 to reveal SBTRKT and vocalist Sampha (who sings on most of the album) on stage behind a see-through sheet emblazoned with a masked man
The opened with an instrumental that I didn’t recognise and then went straight into ‘Never Never’ (if I recall correctly). Sampha’s voice was crystal clear, dripping with honey, and received an enormous cheer from the audience as he started singing. Creating live loops of him harmonies to create vocal depth and working a drum machine during the song, it became obvious that he was going to do a fair bit more than just sing, and that this show was going to live up to it’s ‘live’ billing. At the end of the song, the curtain drooped and you could see the performers laughing at each other behind it – it was quickly pulled to the side and as we soon found out it was supposed to drop spectacularly but “this is the last show in a two year tour and that’s honestly never happened before”. Not that it mattered.
I was reflecting at this stage the difference in crowds between the TEED show of last week and tonight’s gig. Last week they were frothing for anything, tonight the mood was a bit more civilised – demanding stimulation to really let loose. It didn’t take long. During an excellent version of ‘Heatwave’ I worked out that things were really live. SBTRKT was cutting and looping the bass lines on a sampler at the start of the track, setting some other samples off (and adjusting the speed and loop via some sort of pad) then literally jumping on a drum kit to provide live drums, all the time triggering other live sounds and samples. It sounded huge, and with the live drums really pushed the songs up a notch over the minimal versions that were found on the record. Interacting with the crowd and generally dominating, the punters were gradually working themselves into a frenzy – cheering louder, dancing harder, giving more back as the band provided more and more energy. It kicked up a notch to the ‘exceptional’ level with ‘Hold On’ – bearing in mind we were only about 4 songs into the set at this stage. With SBTRKT working hard on the left of stage: arms everywhere to mess with the loops, smashing out the live drums; and Sampha looping vocals on one mike before playing synths and doing the lead vocal on another it was already cooking before Sampha ran to the middle of stage for a percussion solo mid-song. And not your average ‘If I beat a cowbell everyone will cheer’ stuff, he could seriously play. If that wasn’t enough, after some more vocals he made his way to an upright piano on the right of stage to finish the song. SBTRKT may write the tunes, but on stage they are greater than the sum of their parts.
After continuing to raise the roof with ‘Something Goes Right’ and other album tunes (and a couple of others), the gig went into the ‘farking ridiculous, gig of the year’ range starting with an extended and banging version of ‘Pharaohs’, again with both guys playing multiple instruments throughout. The energy flowing in the room was unbelievable. Moving next into ‘Trials of the Past’, my favourite tune off the album and stratospherically good on the night, and through a banging version of ‘Sanctuary’, the crowd were reduced to a sweaty, dribbling mess when one of the siren-like samples from wildfire dropped. With the simple, backlit stage show showing orange and yellow it actually felt like the place would burn down at the venue lost its collective mind. Arms, bodies everywhere. The vocal sample was chopped into pieces on one of the sample pads and SBTRKT was switching arms while drumming to reach it from a distance and cut the whole thing around throughout the extended, body shaking version of this excellent tune. Out of this world incredible.
In all honesty, they could have left then. There was absolutely nothing lacking and my mind was absolutely blown, and you better believe I cheered for them like it was the only thing I could possibly do. They returned for two more, a deep number to keep people shuffling and then a huge version of ‘Right Thing to Do’ to close, with Sampha owning the vocal duties (someone else sings it on the record). They thanked us profusely and explained that it was the last headline show they’d be doing together after a two year tour. An incredible thing to be a part of, gigs like this don’t come along all that often.
What a start to 2013, next up in the Summer show series – Hot Chip and Worlds End Press at the Palace on the 9th of Jan