Review by Mike Emerson
To say we’re at the end of May running into June, it’s not exactly the brightest of times. Tonight is presenting itself as one of those unashamedly grim evenings us Mancunians have become so accustomed to as we make our way to Gorilla to see the second coming of Mr. Ghostpoet.
Having missed Amateur Best, we arrive all full up of Red Stripe just in time for Typesun, who seems intent on ensuring that the grey and gloom is all but forgotten. It’s the first time I’ve come across the Bristolian producer, and teamed up with a vocalist and drummer for the evening they sound phenomenal. Typesun is putting on an absolute synth masterclass to the left, as the lead introduces a certain charismatic soul to the sound. There are influences and comparisons to be drawn all over the place, the outfit sitting somewhere between a less indie Petite Noir and a more electronic Frank Ocean with little elements of James Blake tossed into the mix. Along with some innovative musicianship – the drummer teams a traditional drumkit with drumpad galore to create some seriously intricate patterns – the sound in the venue is adding to their presence dramatically.
The clarity of sound in Gorilla is always nigh on perfect (so much so that you can sometimes here the odd peanut being chewed somewhere at the back of the room) but with the glorious drones of bass coming from the stage tonight, it works perfectly. It’s wonderfully sunny music which brightens up the revelling field of snapbacks and earplugs significantly.
As Ghostpoet walks on stage, it’s visible quite instantly that this is going to be a much different gig than the one we saw last at the Deaf Institute. There are a couple more band members, a lot more mixing desks, a few atmospheric lighting rigs. Wearing comparably casual all black attire, Obaro Ejimiwe looks more focused and driven for the task at hand. I remember last time at the venue up the road he’d asked for a red wine on stage midway through the set, and some adoring member of the crowd had gone on and got him one.
Opening with debut album ‘Gaaasp’, he looks a million times more intense, and there doesn’t seem to be any need whatsoever for a quick glass of rouge. The track sounds great, but he’s parading a slightly strange vocal trick of adding syllables to every word in the style of Roots Manuva. ‘Breath-ahhh, Leave-ahhh, Live-ahhh’. In all honesty it gets a little distracting, but fortunately it’s much more prevalent in this first track than it is the rest of the set.
A couple more old tracks come through sounding much more refined and three dimensional, the transfer from studio to live setting working impeccably tonight. Suddenly this beautiful guitar line drops in out of nowhere, making way for ‘Plastic Bag Brain’ from the new record. The release of ‘Some Say I So I Say Light’ has quashed any preconceptions about what we would have expected. Whilst continuing the vocal style and carrying on with the honesty, the addition of a band has taken the sound much further, and there are previously unseen tempo shifts and instrumental breakdowns – this being one of them. The pauses in the drum patterns work perfectly with the linear snaps of vocal and synth. It sounds (dare I say it) happier, and the crowd reaction evolves from head nods to subtle knee bends to show their appreciation.
‘Dial Tones’ introduces the vocal harmonies for the first time alongside the new female band member in his arsenal. It sounds beautiful, and whilst it fits here perfectly, it’s a wonder it isn’t utilised all the way through the set – even if only in a live environment. It shows the substantial growth of Ghostpoet as an artist, with new avenues conquered and extra elements drafted into what was already loved without any sort of transitionary period.
After a burst of vocal effects and samples emanating from the mixing board to his right, we arrive at (still) personal favourite ‘Survive It’, which (still) sounds as good as the very first time I heard it. It’s been ever so slightly reworked to great effect, but the main thing that shines through is the severe honesty and those refreshingly melancholic lyrics. It’s a sublime performance of the track which elevates the mood in the room, as Ejimiwe states “I don’t do gigs, I do parties. I want you to dance like it’s just me and you – nobodies watching”.
A sped up version of ‘Cash & Carry Me Home’ confirms everyone’s compliance to his request, with the extra verse added after a short pause starting a little wig out on Whitworth street. A few new tracks come next, all showing different sides to the sound being created. There’s an introduction of New Orleans blues in the place of the usual garage tinged beats we have come to expect on ‘Sloth Trot’, guitar appearance from the man himself included. Then comes the recently wondrous ‘Meltdown’, which is received as well as any first album track by the crowd. ‘Comatose’ seems a funny choice for a final track, until it claws back up in tempo and vibe to reach an explosive climax. There’s a quick bout of offbeat, then expelled with layers and layers of structured drum patterns and synth lines alike. It’s incredibly slick and massively appreciated.
Soon he’s off the stage, leaving just his name plastered across the back wall and bellowing in the mouths of all those at the front. This rather spirited (both meanings) encore order is met with a quick version of ‘I Ain’t Finished’, which then makes way for the universally loved ‘Us Against Whatever’. The room erupts again and things get all Watch the Throne at the M.E.N down on the front row as hands and fists are thrown up much to Ghostpoet’s amusement. The applause is something of an event in it’s own right, and after thanking Manchester, Ejimiwe looks stunned at the level of support. An appearance which swapped intimacy and personal proximity for flare and ability, Ghostpoet displayed himself as a true artist to be taken seriously. Certainly no one-trick-pony, it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.