Live Music + Gig Reviews

Róisín Murphy @ Brixton Academy, London

19 September 2021

Róisín Murphy

Róisín Murphy, live at the Brixton Academy, London

Amidst the uncertainty of the pandemical times, Róisín Murphy has stepped up, dressed up and turned it up. Collecting together some of her danciest numbers – the oldest of which was recorded way back in 2013 – for her spectacular 2020 album Róisín Machine, she found that plans to bring her amorphous underground disco meets pop vitality to her people were put unceremoniously on hold. Undeterred, she set about recording performances of her material in lockdown sessions, complete with costumes, projections and sass moves, all from her lounge. If Murphy’s public could not be with her in person, they could join her at home via the internets. Culminating in an extraordinary 80-minute streaming audience-free concert, filmed in a disused warehouse, alongside all of this, reimagining of the music continued too.

Murphy last played live in London just before the first lockdown, at BBC 6Music’s weekend of events at the Roundhouse in March 2020. There she’d strutted over the shoulders of a willingly supportive crowd and, across a set of just seven songs, staked her claim to being one of the most cherished pop stars of our time. Two of Róisín Machine’s biggest numbers, Incapable and Narcissus, were showcased. As is the Murphy way, both have since been reworked many times in standalone remixes and, crucially, on this year’s companion album, Crooked Machine, a work billed thus: “If Róisín Machine was the big night out, this is the afterparty where things get darker and more twisted.” For it, producer and longtime collaborator Richard Barratt – aka Crooked Man – seemingly threw the tracklist of Róisín Machine up in the air, along with the track names. Where they all landed, in some approximation of their former selves, a quite different album formed.

With gigs at last happening again, pent-up creativity and need for communal joy through music could hardly be better served than by this endlessly inventive originator, whose journey to this point had set the evening up as anything but predictable. For sure the dressing-up box would have some new tricks up its sleeves – and indeed some new sleeves – but it’s evident now that Murphy’s music, from the current era back through her career, also has its own recreated wardrobe. The Crooked tracks get the guessing game started from the off. In projections live from backstage, filming herself with one phone while creating her own disco lights with another, Murphy saunters down the Brixton Academy’s tight, twisting labyrinth of staircases and passageways to the Crooked Man Rhumba Remix of Jealousy, high-kicking her boots, close-upping, shimmying while the crowd crank up their anticipation. “I’ve missed yooooooou!” are her first words on appearing on stage at last, to huge cheers.

With the atmosphere set, Something More follows as the four-piece multi-instrumentalist band assembles. A lack of backing vocalists there may be, but the audience readily offers up the chorus while Murphy freestyles over them before skewing unexpectedly into Overpowered’s Let Me Know, complete with a bootyshakin’ routine to a guitar solo. On goes a beige jacket and a floppy hat for the bassy beginnings of Incapable, and it goes blissfully on forever while she revels in euphoric dancing. There’s a spin-breakdown-and-stop, and then we’re straight into Narcissus in its Bent Crooked Mix form, simultaneously breathe-out airy and bass-thumpy. Almost unrecognisable from the disco-max Raffaella Carra tribute of sorts on the Róisín Machine album, it lurks half-seen in the shadows, both harder edged at the bass end and entirely bereft of the original’s disco trimmings. Simulation is similarly smashed down and rebuilt as Assimilation, with Murphy’s voice floating spaciously around the room over echoey house piano notes beamed in from the ‘90s. From somewhere she finds a green baseball cap to go with the bespoke pyjamas she’s suddenly now in, as finally the thumping bass shows up to the party, and we’re dancing with yer mam.

Róisín Murphy

Róisín Murphy, live at the Brixton Academy, London

She momentarily wanders off and finds a tiny clutch bag, a hat, and some (self-mythologising?) scarlet ribbons while the guitarist finds a Nile Rodgers groove, and slowly the parts of Moloko’s Forever More coalesce as this deep dive into a sparkly career gathers pace. A pink frightwig – the occult meeting of a giganticised candy floss and a feather boa – is then donned for Overpowered, which lets her demonstrate the range of her voice with both big diva notes and Björkish whispers.

Further costume changes reveal Murphy in a striking red conception, this time for Shellfish Mademoiselle’s wicked and very dancey aunt, Crooked Madame. “Life’s too short lads, let’s not get too fancy, let’s just get dancey!” she entreats, feet flying, figure poised like an angle lamp. She vamps it up in black cape and matching hat for the bass music adjacent deconstruction of Murphy’s Law, We Are The Law, which segues into the affirmatory We Got Together, the revised arrangement underlining that Murphy’s songs can at whim be reordered to suit mood, time and place and still tickle every spot as we revel in remembering joy in togetherness. The career deep-dive continues with the Knight Rider-esque Flash Of Light, a Luca C track on which she featured in 2012, and Moloko’s Cannot Contain This, with a tropical guitar earworm of a loop taking the main set to its close. 

For the encore she returns with frightwig, blue gown and the band reimagined as an acoustic quartet. Golden Era, her 2012 track with house royalty David Morales, is the unexpected first outing for this fine stripped arrangement, mixing directly and delicately into Moloko’s Familiar Feeling. Finishing a hitherto dancefloor-oriented night with a song now centred on classical guitar is just the sort of madcap thing Róisín Murphy excels at, mixing familiar feelings with something more. Here in her natural habitat, her horizons expand embracingly in all directions, and with her the world is made infinitely better.

Róisín Murphy played: Jealousy (Crooked Man Rhumba Remix), Something More, Let Me Know, Incapable, Narcissus (Bent Crooked Remix), Simulation (“Assimilation” Remix), Forever More (Moloko song), Overpowered, Shellfish Mademoiselle (“Crooked Madame” Remix), We Got Together / Murphy’s Law (“We Are The Law” Remix), Flash Of Light (Luca C cover), Cannot Contain This (Moloko song), Golden Era (David Morales cover) (Stripped Version), Familiar Feeling (Moloko song) (Stripped Version)

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