The Herbaliser / The Fleece, Bristol | 7th of May

The Herbaliser / The Fleece, Bristol | 7th of May

“Tell everyone you know that The Herbaliser are back”

They’re not wrong.

I can only try.

 

Those at The Fleece on Monday were fortunate enough to catch the final show of The Herbaliser’s UK tour. A strong crowd and an even stronger ensemble of musicians (8 in total) –  all seemingly indefatigable in the midst of Bank Holiday heat – saw out the long weekend in style. Founders Jake Wherry (on the bass) and Ollie Teeba (on the decks) were joined by two saxophonists (the one on baritone also played the flute), a ring-leading trumpeter, a drummer, a keyboardist and an energetic, young-Nick Mason-lookin’ fellow on percussion. There is by all accounts a fair bit going on in their shows. It works and it works with gusto.

The brass and horns are ever prevalent and they served as the pulse of a lively performance: Masterful jazz composition, quirky hip-hop beats and the funnest of funk at all times.

 

  • On more than one occasion the youngest member of the ensemble stole the stage with his slick sax.
  • On others the keys rose synthesiser scales and there was something (in)distinctly fey about the sound.
  • On others still my gaze fixed on the percussionist and his gnarly repertoire of effects – wooden block scrapings; a spinning thing creating whirring sounds behind the horns; bouncing bongo rhythms and plenty of brilliant syncopation on the cow bell. Oh and the triangle! Who says the triangle doesn’t rock it? Not this guy.

 

The outfit ducked and dived between time signatures. A 4/4 start to one track led to a timeless vinyl scratching solo from Teeba. There was quick Samba and extended note psychedelic reverb on the trumpet and a 7/8 jazz song with unorthodox snare accents. Tambourines and maracas were used with frequency and to great effect. Then came a slower song – The Sensual Woman. That particular number is on the Snatch soundtrack and contains a distorted, wavering flute. It is fitting that their music has been featured in film, for much of it it can very well be pictured as a source of rhythm for an epic montage or a scheming transition scene.

Breach is like that, with its chopped sampled vocals and great tinkering keys. It’s the first track of their new album Bring Out The Sound (a brilliant and slick catalogue of music – their first since 2012) and it was their opening song on the night. Hearts of Men is a persistent slowswing track with Western-like clicks and cinematic chords every 5beat. Seize The Day features Just Jack and is another highlight of the new release. It is a good record, and a smart addition to their extensive, 11 record discography. The Fleece caught vibes that spanned these works — over 20 years of thoughtful, powerful genre-play were punched into a wicked hour-and-a-half show.

Personal favourites from that discography (and the ones I’m admittedly more familiar with) are Same As It Never Was and Remedies. The latter was released the year I was born. Their music is sometimes smooth and seamless, at which points it can be likened to the masterful works of Nightmares on Wax. At other junctures it is more intense. Body jolting bepop would see the members on stage step back to have a dance, to admire the skilful skits and pristine playing of their bandmates. Their next step was a forward one, to stir the crowd, encourage excitement and groove triumphantly before the waving arms. A feeling of jubilation oozed from The Herbaliser’s music. It permeated the room and did not subside once. Damn good gig.

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