I first experienced the Jamie Lidell live experience at the 2004 Ether Festival at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank, and It’s a fair assessment to say that I was literally stunned by his incredible performance, making it one of the highlights in an evening filled with pleasant surprises.
Probably best known for his fractured techno funk collaborations with Christian Vogel under the name Super_Collider, Lidell joined Warp Records in 2000 to release his solo album Muddlin’ Gear, a record jam-packed with fucked-up cut-and-paste Soul put through a bad acid trip mangler. Almost five years later he’s releasing his new solo album on Warp, called Multiply, which is promising to be an even more R’n’B inspired affair. To celebrate, Lidell’s taking the show on the road; and if he’s coming to a venue near you, you owe it to yourself to check him out.
Lidell has managed to avoid the trap that most one-man techno boffins fall into when playing live: standing behind a laptop or stack of sequencers, twiddling knobs which may or may not be doing anything. Using a collection of computers, samplers and old school gear, Lidell instead builds up tracks out of nothing in a way that is closer to the spirit of improvisational Jazz than pretty much anything else you’ll ever experience.
Lidell bounced on stage at London’s sweaty, intimate Metro Club, grabbed a mike and started singing one of the cool new tracks from his album. His voice is incredible, a genuine soul vocalist trapped in the body of a white boy techno noodler.
By singing scat phrases, becoming a human beat box and creating short vocal melodies, Lidell began the process of building up tracks using live sampling, spontaneously mixing and processing the results like a man gripped by madness. The results are electrifying. Lidell himself becomes part human part machine as he spits out riffs, conjuring tunes into existence that oscillate from classic soul tunes from the fifth dimension to full-on techno tracks and back again.
Every now and then, Lidell will start singing indecipherable lyrics over the top of his creations, with a voice like Stevie Wonder in his prime or—and the guys from Warp will hate me saying this—like Jamiroquai, but in a good way. After a couple of verses or a chorus, it’s back to the loops.
While Lidell writhed and danced and sang and moulded the sound like sonic clay, Pablo Fiasco provided the visuals. Unlike the amazing backdrops he created during the RFH Ether gig, Fiasco seemed to struggle to come up with the goods at the Metro gig. His presence didn’t detract from the event, just reinforced the unpredictable, unrehearsed nature of the evening.
And that’s the beauty of Lidell’s live show. It’s so loose and chaotic, that it threatens to unravel at any moment. Several times, the manic loops just didn’t work, but undeterred, Lidell tweaked them until they did or discarded them and laid down fresh vocal loops to play with. Tracks wobbled on their axis, but, thanks to Lidell’s massaging, things fell into place creating moments of pure genius. When these split seconds occurred, the crowd went crazy, clapping and shouting, spurring Lidell on. I was grinning like an idiot, thinking it doesn’t get any better than this.
Lidell alternated between creating organic tracks and previewing the more traditionally song orientated material from his new album, even persuading people to come up on stage and sing.
After a brief encore, a clearly exhausted Lidell wandered off stage and disappeared, leaving an audience buzzing with what they had just witnessed. You don’t listen to Lidell, you don’t watch him, you experience him, and then you tell anyone who will listen that they must catch him playing live.
Metro Club, London, UK
(19 April 2005)