There’s a palpable sense of optimism around the city right now. The winter that never ends is finally ending, the snow banks are receding, and you can finally head out not dressed like an Arctic explorer. Perhaps that may be one contributing factor for the line snaking out of the door of Theatre Fairmount and out onto the street; people are eager to get out again! Primarily, though, its the lineup inside that is the real reason for such a packed-out Monday night show.
It seems like the stars finally have aligned for me to catch Sinkane live, after many years of trying. Based in Brooklyn, his catalog is a diverse blend of jazz and funk, with more than a sprinkling of African influence, owing to his Sudanese heritage, and is a wonderful listen even at the best of times. Tonight, though, it captures the mood of optimism perfectly. Sinkane arrives on stage with his band, and after warming up themselves and our eardrums with a wall of noise, the epic New Name, from his previous 2014 Mean Love record (and the song that initially hooked me) kicks off proceedings and perfectly encapsulates the African-Jazz-Funk fusion sound that Sinkane has made his own.
Next song U’Huh, from the splendid new record, Live & Livin’ It record, maintains that vibe, with the choral proclamation of “Kulu shi tamaam!” over the mantra “U’Huh” chanted by his backing band transporting all of Theatre Fairmount to warmer climates entirely. The massive synths of How We Be follow that, and present a different side to Sinkane entirely, as a thumping bassline rattles around the room before the unashamedly pop Favorite Song comes next. Appropriately titled too; in all likelihood, once you hear this, it will be your new favourite song.
Runnin’ starts off somewhat slowed down, before accelerating in a very Bluesy manner to an intense crescendo punctuated by some incredible bass work from his touring bassist; the crowd cheers in approval. The song then gradually winds down to the same pace at which it started, before leading into next song Passenger. The slow-burning The Way comes next, with almost ska-like keys running in parallel to a thumping drum beat, before breaking down in the middle, in the dark, led all the while by more impressive bass work, and stirring back into life for an extended outro. Set closer Telephone brings funky back, and the room dances once more, and roars in approval as they merge in Donna Summers famous “Aaaah, I love to love you, baby!” lyric. It’s a truly epic 50 minutes, and in conjunction with the raucous reception of the crowd and the sheer quality of the music, it definitely feels more like a co-headline set than a support one. Indeed, I could probably go home right now and be more than satisfied with my night out.
How We Be
That’s clearly not gonna happen though, as New York’s Son Lux is up next. Expanded in 2015 from being the solo project of Ryan Lott to a full 3-piece band to include guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang, Son Lux just released their 5th album, the grandiose Brighter Wounds, and while that sounds huge on record, nothing can quite prepare you for how it translates in the live arena. The stage darkens almost entirely, save for a few light beams, as the band arrive on stage, all dressed in black, and there’s a hum of ambient noise for a minute or so, before Ryan breaks the silence with the eerie “I had wanted a better world for you,” an excerpt from new album opener Forty Screams. He sings for a while, over the keys he provides, before Ian crashes in with the massive drum beat of The Fool You Need. Ryan distorts his own voice at times, to spectacular effect, and Ian’s breakbeat drums dominate, before fizzling out to leave Ryan alone to sing “I am not letting go” alone on the closing chorus. His voice is fragile, reminiscent of James Blake, and the crowd seems almost awestruck, spellbound. You can hear a pin drop, as Ryan finishes the song; it’s absolutely incredible.
Ian then lays down some more insanely disjointed, but at the same time, perfectly structured (such a contradictory-sounding thing is impossible to put into words; maybe you just had to be there…), and leads to the twinkly guitar intro of Easy, and again, its mesmerising. On Surrounded, the drums are a little more upbeat and Ryan’s voice more closely resembles Brandon Flowers, and just like that enigmatic frontman, he patrols the stage with hands above head to elicit a clap-along around the room; the crowd duly obliges. Both Ryan and Rafiq withdraw to the darkness of the back of the stage as Ian wraps up the song with one of the most massive drum solos I have ever witnessed in the hundreds of shows I have seen in my life.
Labor showcases the perfect harmony between Rafiq and Ryan, as Rafiq picks at his guitar to provide a note corresponding to every word Ryan sings, and again, it sounds incredible. At the song’s conclusion, Ryan surveys the crowd, as if thinking of something to say when they stop cheering, but they never do…so he just smiles at all the cheers instead, before uttering a quick “thank you!”
Stolen starts in similarly quiet manner, with just Ryan on keys, before he raises a fist and brings it down like a hammer to detonate a combination of thudding drums and math-rock guitar riffs at the exact same moment, shaking the walls of Theatre Fairmount. You Don’t Know Me, from their previous 2015 Bones record, starts with incredibly spooky, space-age keys, before the rest of the band join, with Ian somehow able to spare a hand to furiously shake some kind of rattle while also maintaining perfect time with his other hand; mind-boggling to watch, believe me. The song ends in another massive guitar shred, courtesy of Rafiq.
After Slowly, the futuristic Dream State (which could surely fit seamlessly onto the Blade Runner Soundtrack) provides an ambient, mellow break to catch the breath, just enough for the crowd to then initiate another massive sing-along. The breakdown is once again hypnotic; this time, its Rafiq and Ian who match notes in perfect time, even with substantial breaks of a few seconds between the parts they play.
Again, Ryan grins at the levels applause afterwards. He then proclaims that “we need all 500 of you to be in Son Lux on this next one!” Everyone is more than happy to join in, as they provide the choir vocal “OOOOOHHH, OH-OH” backing to Ryans angelic “weren’t we beautiful once?” chorus. The singing echoes and reverberates around the room as the song ends with just us and Ryan singing; it’s truly spine-tingling.
After coming back for the encore, Ryan invites all to come and meet them after the show by the merch; “come see us after, it would be an honor to meet you. Thanks for being a lovely listening, respectful audience, it’s like giving us a hug!” (the massive crowd that assembles there afterwards provides unmistakable proof that the feeling is mutual). After the melancholic Aquatic, Ian yet again dazzles on Lost It To Trying, as he plays the rims of his snare drums whilst also keeping the regular beat of the song, and Ryan sings over his own distorted harmonies one final time, before the band bows and leaves the stage for good after a truly phenomenal 90 minutes, bringing the curtain down on an incredible evening.
It’s funny, just before Sinkane left the stage, he promised us “Son Lux is up next – they will blow your mind.” Sinkane was right; I feel like I’ll be picking up the pieces for a while.
Son Lux Setlist
Forty Screams (Excerpt)
The Fool You Need
You Don’t Know Me
Lost It to Trying (with ‘Forty Screams’ outro)