Saturday, November 22, 2008

Herbie Hancock @ Barbican, 19/11/08

Last Wednesday Herbie Hancock melted my brain. Thanks once again to the prescient wisdom of Jason B Standing, we had excellent seats to witness...well, I frankly don't know what to call it but it blew my mind. Musical hallucinogens, perhaps. I did literally lose sense of time as the epic jams blasted me strangely giddy. Jason described it as having your brain chewed on, which sounds odd and rather painful out of context but is actually spot on.

Herbie's got a discography as long as my dick would be if spam were true. Pianist, composer, innovator, bandleader and member of the Second Great Davis Quintet, he's spent a lifetime in music and if our gig were not an exception, appears to still be enjoying every minute of it. Like many touring legends, he'd assembled a band of younger players who I'd never heard of (I'm sure the London Jazz Festival crowd had) but who were without exception extraordinary, assured and yet clearly in awe of their leader.

The dapper drummer grinned and grimaced his way through the gig masterfully in both delicate union and outright combat with the wonderful bassist, who was the chubbiest, cheeriest fellow you can imagine. He was almost a caricature of the fun but funky bass player, mouthing riffs and licks in the way you do when you're playing air bass with no actual music playing. But heck could he play. In stark contrast was the swiss , shaven-headed harmonica player, who looked unfortunately like the quiet one who neighbours say was quite nice and always put the bins out on time before he shot 13 people at a McDonalds. He'd come out from behind the drum kit, where'd he hide when not needed, shuffle almost zombie-like across stage and lay down soaring harmonica leads or complement the trumpeter's bits. Said trumpeter was predictably awesome, with Tour De France worthy lung capacity and a flashy, super cool trumpet he occasionally added effects to for a sound I can only describe as Space Trumpet. When I grow up I want to be a Space Trumpet Player.

Rounding out the sextet was an African guitarist, who was great but also provided the only respite from the relentless mind-blowing with a very odd solo segment. He'd placed a bit of gaffer tape across all the strings just above the bridge on his acoustic guitar, so that it sounded a bit like the dull two string ukuele we had in the toy box as kids. Or one of those 'stringed instruments' you construct in Grade 3 art class and 'play' incessantly and tunelessly until it mysteriously disappears when your Mum cleans. Anyhow, he played this while he vocalised what I can only describe as African scat. He even made those clicking and popping sounds you hear in some African dialects. This was generally subdued but a few times he made some very loud random noises and I'm afraid I was reminded of times my brother and I found we could plug a microphone into the family stereo. At one point Liz grabbed me in a kind of physical attempt to say WTF.

I've spent so much time wittering about the band I've barely mentioned the man himself, and I actually don't know what to say apart from 'wow'. He seemed to enjoy the gig as much as a fan as a player, enthusiastically listening and responding to what everyone else did when not playing up a storm himself. In between songs he gave cheerful rambling introductions and described a little about what they planned to do next. One called 'V' (I think) he described as being about mysterious visitors, before treating us to a very slow and atmospheric introduction on the synth followed by piano. For the encore he strapped on the keytar and gave us Chameleon and a series of playful musical duels with band members.

I haven't attempted to describe any specifics of what was played, as I'm far too uneducated to do justice to it. I just want to give the flavour of the gig. Suffice to say they used more chords per minute than Green Day have used in their entire career. The songs ebbed and flowed and floated and surged and grooved and crescendoed and twinkled and boomed and twittered and fizzed. We were in the fourth row, which was close enough to witness trumpet spit showers, but still showed us a rapt audience in front. Having all these heads of front of me, some occasionally feebly attempting to keep time but most still, frozen by sheer awesomeness, I became for a short while obsessed with a peculiar fantasy: I WANTED TO SEE SOMEONE'S HEAD EXPLODE. It seemed only fitting. There'd be a slight warning, a kind of brief vibration like the Lemmings did in their eponymous computer game shortly before they exploded. Then BOOM. It's the one situation where I don't think anyone would mind. We'd blissfully wipe the blood and chunks of grey brain matter from our faces like tears of joy, and know that someone had fully accepted the gospel of Hancock. Even the friends and relatives would know their loved one had ruined their chance at an open casket for a good cause, a musical martyr who physically manifested the thoughts and dreams of his fellow human beings. It would be beautiful.

Sadly, it didn't happen, but my head hurt a little after. Go see him. We're still trying to find our way out of the Barbican so there might still be tickets for his next gig. There's only a small chance it will be your head that explodes, and what a risk to take.


Anonymous said...

perhaps Herbie's wailing keytar techniques is what blew your mind?
Alas... alack... he is no Paul Gray!

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