Couldn’t understand a word. Didn’t care. Couldn’t stop dancing. Didn’t care. It was that kind of night.
Wind Back Wednesday looks to a loose and liquid night in 2015 when the music of an African giant was revisited, revitalised and reviewed. Sometimes you just want to be free.
ATOMIC BOMB! THE MUSIC OF WILLIAM ONYEABOR
Enmore Theatre, January 16, 2015
ON A NIGHT NOT LACKING for musical entertainment from Parramatta to the Domain, choosing to be in the Enmore for music played (mostly) by people you don't know from an artist (almost wholly) unknown in a style (Nigerian funk intersecting with Euro-synths of the late ‘70s) that could hardly be said to have ever found radio currency here, may have been a brave call.
It was though, the right call.
The right call that is if you wanted to dance, to feel like you were actually going to make something of your life, to dance some more, to look at your fellow humans as collaborators in this mood rather than an encumbrance, and to dance just that little bit extra. This was pleasure, as simple as that.
The right call too if you have ever wanted to see the brilliance of the great saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, a late addition to the lineup as a “replacement” for one of the vocalists, Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip.
Not exactly a like-for-like replacement it should be said, especially when Sanders, resplendent in purple shirt, kufi and a wicked half smile above his stately white beard, blasted eardrums in his opening solo spot prior to the band joining in and building the first of the Afro grooves.
In truth the other vocalists, who were just fine, were the least important part of the show. Yes, that includes the Mahotella Queens whose energy, litheness (even when I was a third their age and twice as limber as I am now I could never had pulled off half their moves) and sheer joy in performing left more of a mark than their voices pitched against the force and focus of the substantial band.
Substantial in this case being both a comment on their excellent playing and their bulk with an Ark-like arrangement of two drum kits, two percussionists, two synth/keyboards, two brass and two guitars (bass and six-string) making an irresistible wall of sound.
Each time Sanders played, as restrained and melodic as he was when maybe a ripsnorter of a trademark solo wouldn’t have gone astray, it was like he was writing elegant and stylishly appealing cursive while the other three vocalists were neatly working in block print. His slow groove dancing too was a sight to behold.
Gotye (working hard this night having come from the triple j concert, where apparently Daniel Johns’ version of Smells Like Teen Spirit is now nearing its end) was the more effusive of the two principal voices, his dancing with the Mahotella Queens as much an unbridled show of pleasure as his unleashed falsetto.
Luke Jenner of The Rapture, sporting an Onyeabor-style Stetson, was little more effete when a bit of edge would have helped while musical director/keyboardist/hype man Ahmed Ghallab was effective and engaging.
It may be that the songs here wouldn’t stand close scrutiny away from the dancefloor (though who cares?) and the show finished half an hour earlier than it really deserved given our elevated temperature and lowered resistance. But this much fun is its own reward really and there were rewards aplenty.