Photo by Neil Krug.
The set finishes and the crowd quickly dissipates, maybe trying like me to figure out how they feel about the performance just delivered by Bonobo. Rewind a few hours, and the O2 Academy in Leeds is packed, buzzing with heady anticipation and all the claustrophobic intensity of a small venue. Bonobo (aka Simon Green)’s set was one of his first live shows in the UK since 2014, and so I was keen to see how his work would translate in a live performance, as Bonobo is undeniably better known for being listened to through headphones.
‘Migration’ kicks off the set, and Green somehow manages to instantaneously open up the venue – as the first few tracks weave around the relatively small space, they breathe a new energy into the crowd. ‘Bambro Koyo Ganda’, ‘Break Apart’ and ‘7th Sevens’ from this year’s Migration are highlights of the night, but we’re also treated to some older favourites like ‘Cirrus’.
Projected scenes of volcanic eruptions and explosions of lava and desert landscapes with hypnotic shapes ebb and flow beautifully in time with each track on three vast screens, and become almost as crucial in the overall experience as the music itself.
London singer-songwriter Szjerdene takes the stage for a couple of songs, including ‘First Fires’: disappointingly her delicate vocals are overwhelmed, but her presence onstage is ethereal, and she still manages to translate the poignancy of the staple track from The North Borders. The orchestral accompaniments of a flute and several brass instruments created a welcome relief to the heavy bass, that was at points overwhelming.
The energy Green initially created peaked towards the middle of the set and gradually unwound throughout the second half, leaving a feeling that the audience’s attention was waning. ‘Pieces’ and ‘Know You’ were somewhat disappointing closers, and reflecting on the gig, it’s difficult to describe the overall experience, as some aspects exceeded expectation whilst others were irrevocably disappointing. However, what can’t be denied is Simon Green’s sincerity and authenticity in what he creates for his fans – something that doesn’t seem to have faltered in well over a decade.By Grace Vaudin