LIVE REVIEW: Herbie Hancock @ Sydney Opera House

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Herbie Hancock
Sydney Opera House, June 10th 2019

Herbie Hancock has been playing jazz onstage for nearly sixty years and even though this was his second show of the day in the Opera House’s Concert Hall, the septuagenarian seemed to have boundless energy as he took the audience through a spellbinding two hours of jazz fusion.

Hancock has always been one to evolve with the times and branch out from traditional be-bop jazz into soul, funk, classical and more. Tonight he was still sounding like he was channeling the future with a lineup of Lionel Loueke (electric guitar), James Genus (electric bass) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) and himself on piano, synth and keytar. At one point he introduced a song as one he wrote in the ‘70s and as the audience cheered he added – “2070, I’m ahead of my time!”.

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The focus of the set was firmly on songs he wrote as technology was changing and electronic music was becoming established and often taking the lead in jazz, funk and soul music. Actual Proof was a real highlight. Hard funk and ridiculously virtuosic soloing from the band, especially Colaiuta on drums. What made the band so impressive was their ability to work as a cohesive, fluid and rhythm-based unit and then pull things back to spotlight individual solos that never outstayed their welcome. These were some of the finest players in the world yet there was very little ego emanating from the stage. Hancock was flashing grins and kicking out his leg from beneath the piano, clearly revelling in the musical interaction with his band. As he introduced them he seemed genuinely and humbly in awe of their talents.

Hancock himself divided his time between his various instruments, pacing himself before going deep on a solo, notes near flying off the keys in a blur of fingers, whether it was light, dancing runs or heavy, slamming chordal accents. He remains a dazzling and inventive player, still taking his music to thrilling and otherworldly places.  For the most part the set was upbeat and constantly in motion. A comparatively quieter moment came with the soulful Come Running To Me featuring Hancock’s synth-manipulated vocal adding yet another element to their sound.

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Late set highlights came in the form of two of his masterpieces and most recognisable compositions in Cantaloupe Island, recorded in 1964, and the closing future funk encore of Chameleon, from his 1974 album Head Hunters. Hancock took centre-stage with his keytar, swapping solos with Loueke and at the age of 79, leaving the stage with an airborne jump to signal the final note as the audience rose to their feet in unison. 

This was no artist playing it safe at the tail-end of his career, this was a celebratory night of music and creative spirit par excellence, from a true innovator and legend of modern music.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: R.I.P Society 5th Birthday @ Sydney Opera House (24/05/14)

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The Dead C

Vivid Live deserves a pat on the back for inviting Nic Warnock’s R.I.P Society label to celebrate their 5th birthday with a stylistically varied lineup of a dozen acts that have been released on the label or share its open-minded and independent approach to music.

Things started off skronky and dissonant with Ghastly Spats before frontman Lincoln Brown ditched his guitar, picked up a new band (Housewives) and straightened the music into gonzo punk territory. With the audience attention switching across the room to another of the three stages they found Rat Columns playing their debut show and they were a real highlight. Tight, melodic, urgent and melancholic guitar pop that perfectly balanced mood, sonics and songwriting. As quickly as structured pop/rock songs appeared they were dissected and interestingly mutated by the jazz and dub inflected Cured Pink. Warnock’s own band Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, who surprised and impressed many with their debut album, played a great set that retained the record’s suburban ennui in a low key and jovial manner.

Hobartian duo The Native Cats probably won the most new fans. Utilising bass, vocals and programming they mixed electronica and post punk, like Shellac cosying up to New Order, to great effect. There were two other electronic acts on the bill, the textural experimentation of Half High and the hypnotic dance music of Holy Balm who created the most celebratory vibe of the night. Rounding out the party were three quite different bands – Woollen Kits and their emotive jangle pop, the seminal feedtime who delivered the heaviest, most pummelling set and one that showed just why they are deemed so influential and finally the finest exponents of deconstructed rock music – New Zealand’s The Dead C. They took all the music that preceded them and sonically disintegrated it into absorbing experimental fragments. R.I.P Society deserved such a eclectic celebration of their diverse roster and all bands delivered appropriately fine and unique performances.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

NEWS: 2012 Vivid LIVE Festival Program Announced…

This year the Sydney Opera House based festival Vivid LIVE has done away with a guest curator, in the past using Lou Reed & Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno and others. From 2012 onward the festival will be overseen by the Sydney Opera House’s programming team, led by Head of Contemporary Music, Fergus Linehan as Festival Director.

The full line-up for this year has been announced today and it feels like there is a decidedly contemporary if not futuristic angle to much of the music.

  • Karen O and KK Barrett’s Stop the Virgens
  • Florence+the Machine
  • The Temper Trap
  • Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, and Bryce Dessner
  • Janelle Monae and the Anchandroid Orchestra
  • Amon Tobin’s ISAM
  • Efterklang and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra
  • PVT
  • LCD Soundsystem’s Shut Up & Play The Hits (Australian Film Premiere)
  • My Brightest Diamond
  • Seekae
  • Nights Like This w/ Danny Brown and MED
  • Modular Night w/ Tom Vek, Jonathan Boulet, and Kindness
  • FBI/Penny Drop Party w/ Zola Jesus, Light Asylum, and Forces
  • Imogen Heap
  • Good God Danceteria!
  • Future Classic Party – line-up TBA

Vivid LIVE takes place at the Sydney Opera House 25th May – 3rd June 2012.