LIVE: GoGo Penguin @ Albert Hall
Hometown boys GoGo Penguin are probably a name you’ve heard – they’re the shining bright burden for acoustic, left field jazz, and have cultivated a reputation for high quality, widely-influenced music. These guys aren’t Mercury Prize nominated for no reason. The 2018 UK tour for their February album ‘A Humdrum Star’ concluded at our very own Albert Hall; its church setting with the open, fairy-lighted top giving an atmospheric and intimate take befitting of the band’s clout. Manchester, and myself, awaited with baited breath.
Starting the night off were Gondwana Records newbies Sunda Arc, who had swathes of progressive and modular trance jazz for the audience – a great homage to the large reach of GoGo’s tastes. Their square and sawtooth bullets of sequenced bass settles under colourful, washing chords, skipping sixteenths and throbbing kick drum. The percussion is multi-layered and detailed, which give a possessive motion, especially with the natural reverberations of the Albert Hall sitting softly underneath. Looping sequences patiently whirl in and out, either to highly charged quaking and rumblings, or disturbing, hypnotic buzzing. This is filled out with minimal melodic solos on a Nord or improvised mini-saxophone. They should definitely be watched within the scene, and closely; and their first EP ‘Flicker’, primed for release in December, might just strengthen that sentiment.
And then for something completely different – there’s nothing chilling or disturbing about Andreya Triana. The MOBO nominee glided comfortably on stage over the counter-melodic noodlings of guitarist Ben King, and offered a stripped back blend of pop and soul. On stage with such little instrumental backing, the effect is one of isolation, but if anyone can fill that pronounceable void it’s Andreya. Her clean, soulful chops filled rooms and hearts with genuinely jaw-dropping ease, and combined with her refined stage presence makes her performance hard to take your eyes and ears off.
We were treated to cuts off new album ‘Life In Colour’, due for release in February, such as ‘I Gave You My Heart’ and ‘WOMAN’, where her melodies had strong shades of Corinne Bailey Rae – a pop-centred yet incredibly intelligent navigation of colourful diatonic harmonies. Yet, her delivery had plenty of versatility, adding blues-like riffs and raspy sprinklings at song climaxes, all over intricate, rhythmic guitar work. We even got a preview of Andreya’s new McCartney-esque Hofner bass, adding a lovely layer to the closer. A fantastic support on what is an overall high quality night of music so far, and if any band can push that even further, it’s our headliners.
GoGo Penguin are shrouded in yellow coming on to stage, starting the set like the album does – pianist Chris Illingworth plays the patient, monotone piano pulse of ‘Prayer’, which builds to a heart-crushing crescendo of space and melancholia, Nick Blacka’s bowed double bass whirling in and out. One thing that immediately hits you about their live sound is how acoustically pristine it is – there’s a cleanliness and purity to every single note, never fudged and combined with an unbelievable sense of musicality. No song shows this more than oldie ‘One Percent’, an ultra-rhythmic piece that mixes pulses and and skips beats to gleeful abandon, ending on performed live out-of-time glitches with an unbelievable tightness I have rarely seen.
Songs like ‘Bardo’ show a hypnotic, EDM-like approach to progressive acoustic music, with repetitive hooks on Illingworth’s piano, whereas songs like ‘Strid’ show Rob Turner’s bullet-quick drum changes and minimalist polyrhythms; but whichever song they do, they act as one incredibly tight sonic unit. Whilst they blend elements of jazz and acoustic music, every now and again you hear a bass pattern that wouldn’t be out of place on a Squarepusher anthem, or a Nils Frahm-prepared piano: they pull from such a wide range of influences that it’s hard to really box them into one all encompassing genre. They even sprinkle some delay pedals on a bass, and a wash of hand bells on ‘100 Moons’, to add to their mature sonic palette.
The one feeling you get from the entire room, and it’s one you rarely experience as a gig goer, is one of genuine awe. Their almost robotic humility and dedication doesn’t negate from the overall sound, and special mention must go to sound engineer Joe Riser, who helped provide one of the purest sounds I may have ever heard live. Blending perfectly with the surroundings, it is a sound to be proud of. More poignant tracks like ‘Murmuration’ and closer ‘Transient State’ cement this attention to detail, and provide listeners with such a love for music that they almost transcend being a band altogether; a immaculate, subtle yet jaw-dropping tribute to the musical experience. If you fancy getting both misty-eyed and blown away at the same time, hop on this show as soon as possible, and I guarantee your heart will grow three sizes.