Talk about a man living his own music. With every stab of the kick drum or incisive hit of the keyboard Matthew Herbert’s body seemed to be utterly under the control of his own music, pulled around KOKO’s stage by a team of invisible puppeteers, their routine planned in advance to the nearest beat.
And yet this blue riband act of !K7 Records, celebrating the label’s coming of age this year, was draped in a gold smoking jacket, twinned with blackshorts, with nothing on his feet. It was as if someone had woken him up in the middle of the night to take an urgent phone call, whereupon he found himself on stage, blinking heavily in front of a near capacity crowd.
Vocalist Neil Thomas followed suit, though his design was a smarter black, indicating he had in fact been up for some time. He sang with little movement but deep emotion, taking over Dani Siciliano‘s lines in the tracks from most recent album Scale, and when he smiled had something of a cheeky Martin Freeman about him. So impassioned were some of his vocals, albeit with subtly delivery, that Herbert’s bobbing and weaving beats retired to the middle ground, taking with them a delicate, unobtrusive electronic clothing.
In this he was helped by a tight rhythm section, achieved through a long and gruelling recent worldtour, of which this was the last stop. The drums were basic but oh so bouncy, given extra muscle by the funky bass. And while Herbert may have stopped well short of employing chefs to cook on stage, as he did recently at the Barbican, he took time out to sample the crowd singing an assortment of ‘C’s, throwing it back in a live demonstration of creative sampling.
In the week his 100lbs debut album has been re-released it seemed appropriate to have Herbert back in the electronic fold again. Snatches of the big band remained – a sensitive muted trumpet solo here, a rather more gregarious flute improvisation there – but he was mostly content to offer his cool yet vivid orchestration via the keyboards.
As Neil Thomas sang the crowd were mostly attentive, caring not for the lack of a light show or the relative lack of emotion on stage. The music did the talking, and Herbert – himself only two years shy of the label in musical age, left a happy man.