GoGo Penguin provide an undeniable highlight to Liverpool Music Week and Getintothis’ Del Pike was there loving every second.
If the point of Liverpool Music Week is to offer an eclectic range of artists, then it really is succeeding this year and its only Tuesday. Already we have seen the likes of genius film-score composer and director John Carpenter, playing the same night as shouty Nottingham icons, Sleaford Mods. Tonight at the Arts Club we are offered the very finest modern jazz imaginable in the shape of Manchester trio GoGo Penguin and to say they were absolutely brilliant would be the understatement of the year.
Before they brought down the Arts Club with their unique sound, we heard a short set from Liverpool based Deliah.They suited the slot with their jazzy feel, but veered a little more towards bar-room soul/R&B. The fiery haired Michelle Harris sang heartfelt songs of lost love and despair but kept the audience positive. Two Packed In offered an opportunity for audience participation and Hello Again was as sincere a tale of heartbreak as you’re likely to hear this year. The look of the band was a little early 90s, with Harris resembling a more statuesque Brianna Corrigan from The Beautiful South. She’s got the clothes too.
A beautiful piano appeared during the set up. We can’t imagine how it got there on the small stage of the venue, but there it was, closely followed by GoGo Penguin themselves. Walking onstage almost un-noticed and taking their places for the evening.
Three young lads who look like they don’t even realise themselves how ridiculously talented they are, they start off with a crowd pleasing All Res, the lead track from their third and most recent album Man Made Object. It’s a perfect opener and shows off their individual skills immediately.
The band have just been signed to Blue Note, The label in the jazz world, famous for their stunning sleeves and rota of legends from Miles Davis and John Coltrane to Jimmy Smith and Art Blakey. Some shoes to fill. They deserve it in spades though as just their opening track alone proves.
The entire audience were mesmerised from the first minute. A marvellous thing about watching live jazz, more than any other genre, is the ability to focus in on each musician and become instantly swept into their world. Watching drummer Rob Turner tonight felt over and again like the climax to the movie, Whiplash. The guy can drum!
Unspeakable World, with its crazy staccato piano motifs, gave way to an all enveloping journey. It is irresistible, and we become lost in their world. Double bassist Nick Blacka is the only member who speaks tonight and he is warm and grateful towards the crowd. He thanks us for coming to the show and not watching the football instead, as one lone scouse female voice cries out “You’re really brilliant”.
Kamaloka from their second album v2.0 is much heavier, particularly down the drum end and provides a more tribal sound for the band, for such a young band there is so much variation in their set list, it is astounding.
Without doubt, the highlight of the night came in One Percent, also from v2.0. Epic doesn’t even cover it. There were moments when they sounded more like Kid A era Radiohead than Radiohead themselves. Dark brooding passages, giving way to impassioned concentrated solos, this is intense. There are times when they move swiftly from sounding like GoGo Penguin (and they do have a unique sound), to almost mimicking those Blue Note artists of fifty plus years ago.
For every dark Radiohead moment there is relief, often sounding like the Vince Guaraldi Trio, responsible for providing the almost Godlike soundtracks to the Charlie Brown animations in the 60s. This is a compliment.
Branches Break has the unfortunate feature of a piano motif that sounds very much like Rod Stewart‘s Do Ya Think I’m Sexy, but it’s not going to bruise the performance one iota. Dancing bells on the cymbals and a racing rhythm make this their breeziest moment of the night, almost pop in its immediacy.
What makes tonight’s performance so special is the variety within their style. At one point there is a dark as hell interlude, Blacka‘s bow is so far down the double bass it’s almost scratching the floor and pianist Chris Illingworth has his hand inside the piano, dumbing down the strings to make a hollow thud as he dances across the keys. Just when you know it can’t get any darker, Turner brings in a drum crescendo, pulling the baby into the light like a midwife, giddy on the ciggies, and we’re back in the room.
Protest closes the main set, and it just about brings the show back to earth with its metronomic beats and warm piano shapes. An encore includes Hopopono from 2014, another warm and soulful piece that is very much the sound of GoGo Penguin.
The live experience is so far removed from how they sound on their albums that it is an essential experience. The albums are far from pedestrian but played live the sounds leap out and wrestle you to the ground. If ever a band needed to release a live album, meet GoGo Penguin. There is a four track Live at Abbey Road E.P available but a full blown gig is what we need. One night is not enough.Beautiful, intense, visceral, hypnotic, challenging and vital doesn’t even cover it. Watching the football instead was not even an option.
Photos by Getintothis’ Tom Adam