Stu Rowe has been evolving and adapting his Lighterthief project for years now. A fluid recording project spawning some truly unique music and some rare but memorable live shows, and also a recording studio which has coalesced into a record label. And indeed a record label in the old sense of the meaning, one with a set of house musicians, one that helps write, build and expand the ideas of those artists. And two of those artists were show cased in all their glory at The Arts Centre last night.
I have enjoyed watching George Wilding develop ever since Being Ragdollian dropped into the review pile three years ago and he seems to have since walked the perfect path at the perfect pace from quirky solo guy to the mercurial full band we now see before us. There has always been something vaguely Bowie-esque about his music, not the alien rock star era which made an icon of the man but more reminiscent of those first few albums where he was still threading pop commerciality through a strange fey folkiness, slightly odd, wonderfully other.
And whilst the songs that came out of the studio were great, performing solo just didn’t capture the sheer widescreen cinematics of those creations. Now with a gathering of the musical troops and a titular haircut he is where he needs to be. Not only driven by a solid and dexterous rhythm section but with all those chiming guitar motifs and additional textures that were needed to bridge the gap between the studio and the live performance are all catered for. Martha is now suitably big and boisterous, Tchaikovsky on the Tamborine is jaunty and fun and in contrast the quieter numbers such as My Backwards Head drip with all the haunting beauty of a Nick Drake classic. The fact that they closed the show with Bowie’s Moonage Daydream can only be taken as a sign that they know where they are going with all this.
If Wilding is cool because of a slightly reserved innocence which hangs over their music, Ruby Confue is cool because she is just so commanding, sassy and infectiously fun. Casting flowers down the aisle as she joins her band from the audience, it feels as if she is leading the procession to her own coronation, and in many ways she is. Her band is a mix of the stripped back London three piece that she is normally found with and members of the Lighterthief Collective and result is a ten legged, hard grooving, soul-serving, funky, pop music machine and as she stands in the eye of that storm you can tell that she is having the time of her life.
Kinky Afro is the obvious go to cover for such a musical tour de force, the fact that it fits seamlessly into the set is an indication of just how fine tuned and deftly wrought her songs are. At the bands most fiercest they hit like a 60’s soul revival, 70’s funk jam and 80’s hip-hop blast all rolled into one, but some of the most intriguing moments come from the quieter middle section, where drummer Charlie Rowe switches to guitar and bassist Leon Marley Itzler reveals himself to be not just a beat boxer but as Ruby herself so brilliantly put it “a mouth drummer, just listen to that snare!” It is here that the subtlety and suppleness of the songs is revealed, the fact that behind the fun and pizzaz, the hi-jinks and high kicks there is also a delicacy and gentle musical heart.
But soon it is back to the theatrics and groove, the psychedelic urban circus that the band inhabit, Ruby herself wonderfully sending herself up by reappearing in shimmering fairytale princess cloak and tiara, a coronation indeed. As the band launch into the song that put her on most people’s radar in the first place, the sunshine pop-soul, Shakespearean rap that is Baby 126, I’m sure that I can’t have been the only one who thought, oh yes, I’d forgotten about this one, certainly a testament to just how enthralling the set has been, that I wasn’t even waiting for the big number.
And how do you wrap up such a set? With a charging and feisty version of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking followed by dancing in the aisles, standing ovations and a night that will long stay in the memory.