Live Music + Gig Reviews

Arrested Development + Spooks @ University Union, Newcastle

27 January 2004

Two hip-hop names return with new studio albums and a UK tour, and not a whole lot of people seem to know about it. Well, not in Newcastle anyway, as Newcastle University Union eventually swells to around half capacity after a very slow opening.

Life Savas play a short set to warm us up. They are immediately followed by hip-hop collective Spooks, who get straight into the swing of things, much to the delight of the few people excited enough to be out of their seats and right on the barrier.

A few tracks from their new album Faster Than You Know are played, and seem to go down pretty well. All is fairly tame, however, until they pull out their ’90s hit Karma Hotel, making everyone feel a good few years younger. It bounces and swerves along, gradually becoming Rappers Delight. Although they may be a member short, (Water Water left and was sadly killed in a car accident soon thereafter), they hold it together and push forth with an entertaining set.

Karma Hotel is inevitably surpassed by Things I’ve Seen, which follows hot on the heels of some guest freestyling from Aulpurpis and some crowd-pleasing anti-Bush remarks. Things are wrapped up as Things I’ve Seen is rapped and sung over Sean Paul‘s Get Busy, and one can’t help but wondering whether or not the Spooks can contend with the dance hall giant. Commercially it would seem very unlikely, but artistically it appears they are every bit as credible as they ever were, perhaps more so.

Spooks vacate the stage at around 10.25pm, and after a very short break the place goes crazy (about as crazy as a half full venue can get) for the appearance of Arrested Development. It’s been the best part of a decade since their heyday, but Speech doesn’t look a day older, and the guitar/bass combination sounds as fresh as ever, particularly because of a distinct lack of drums. It’s positive and communal, and everyone is more than happy to sing along (even if they were too young to remember the words from the first time around).

New material blends almost seamlessly with old, held together with messages of social unity and freedom. It’s almost like we’re back in 1995, with Speech providing the uplifting and catchy commentary. The promises of positive hip-hop hold true, and we’re even treated to a Sly And The Family Stone cover, complete with a guitar solo played with teeth.

Arrested Development eventually crescendo, as does the crowd, to classics like Tennessee. Several short instrumentals later (including Michael Jackson‘s Billy Jean), everyone is swaying and singing to the tones of Redemption Song, which turns out to be one of the highlights of the night. Life Savas and Spooks, though commendable, are soon forgotten as Mr Wendel and Everyday People see people flock to the stage for a taste of communal music at its best.

They sound even better than they did back in the day, and it feels like welcoming back an old friend – one we knew when we were much less cynical and jaded. We’re even treated to an encore of What’s Going On? featuring Spooks’ Mia. It’s all good, and we come away knowing that at least one comeback, if not more, is very much on track.

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Arrested Development + Spooks @ University Union, Newcastle