21st July | The Fleece

Photo: Darren Paul Thompson

The dark and atmospheric mood of The Fleece along with its unyielding sound system seems to lend itself suitably to any form of event. This evening we were treated to a trio of local poets preceding the main act. Josh Luke Smith started us off with a tale of unrequited love and domestic abuse full of interestingly structured phrases and refrains “roses are blood red, violets are beaten black and blue”. A very thoughtful and articulate performance which touched on issues like refugees deaths and sexual predators could have possibly benefited from a reeling in of the intensity in its delivery as it felt a little overstated given the subject matter.

Malaika Kegode followed with a distinctly different style which allowed the words themselves to do the hard work. Her technique felt like a casual recollection of events and the seemingly incidental pauses made her witty and poignant tales all the more enticing. Solomon OB, a former national poetry slam champion, was the final performer. Full of energy and passion he captivated the crowd very quickly. He had a much more literal first person approach reflecting on his life and identity which resonated very strongly across the venue. Personally, the lack of poetic decoration to his pieces failed to grab me but his genuine passion and ability to communicate was overtly evident.

The quiet attentive vibe very quickly altered once Saul Williams took to the stage. Flanked with newspaper cutting looking images overlaid in Andy Warhol colouring with phrases and lyrics strewn across them “rebellious gene”, “avatardust” they flickered in random sequence. Joined by the grinding stretched out industrial backing music; the dystopian feel of 2016 album MartyrLoserKing¬†could be felt from every angle. Beginning with its opening track ‘Groundwork’ Saul darted about the unevenly lit stage as the bass gradually increased to wall trembled levels.

The busy piano loop of ‘Horn of the Clock Bike’ came next and his fast pecking diction delivered the more slam poetry toned lyrics of this confrontational, dense and somewhat bleak feeling poem/song as a time lapse city night sky zipped past in the background. This led into the eerie chimes of ‘Down for some ignorance’ which leaped¬†into a manic series of samples arranged in a brain dance fashion as we were torn from one mood to the next the crowd hopped about in abandonment.

The obligatory “Hello Bristol” followed but he got straight back to business. What was impressive was the level of complexity in the backing music which touched on a multitude of genres and instruments all played with skull cracking intensity and overlaid with the strikingly profound and fascinating lyrics. In a time when music feels like it’s being constantly simplified and forced away from experimentation it was refreshing to see a confidence in the listeners ability to absorb and process the rich contents of the music.

Other high lights included a mutilated version of ‘Glory Box’ (Portishead) which includes a sample itself as he delivered what almost felt like a sermon over the top. As Last year’s track ‘Burundi’ began with it’s African folk chants he climbed down into the crowd and followed it with ‘Control Freak’; an aggressive song with a snare slapping violently from the outset. It feels like a war march where the vocals take the tone of a rousing call to arms before closing in a succession of throaty screams which reek of angry frustration. In contrast, and finally back on the stage, DNA had a more monotone slow narrative form which gradually became mesmeric.

The set closed with long time favourite ‘List of Demands’ where his daughter Saturn took to the stage to sing the verses for him. The set seemed to be over in no time despite it’s length and was a testament to their ability to maintain such an exciting and non-stop momentum.

Saul Williams history in theatre really shows itself in his poise and delivery. In all honesty it would very difficult to pick any holes in the evenings performance and in terms of creativity I have seen very few people come close to the level of imagination and multi-faceted influence that went into the music while maintaining such coherency.

Check out the video for ‘List Of Demands’ below.