Show Review: Morcheeba with The Mumlers and Mariee Sioux at The Fillmore, 7/28/2010

by Jonathan Pirro on July 29, 2010

Crowds of people wait for her: Skye Edwards of Morcheeba

Crowds of people wait for her: Skye Edwards of Morcheeba

Any sort of band that plays music that can be even remotely described as “downtempo” has, in some eyes, a serious disadvantage when it comes to their live performance. The energy and excitement and wildness that comes from a live gig is toned down, and re-formed into the fluid, organic compositions that make up the worlds of dub, trip-hop, and ambient performance. Often, an audience with great patience and love of such swell in a melody becomes the ultimate factor in a successful show, or act, that brings mostly slower, dreamier, and more wistful compositions to the  live world of music. Tonight’s crowd at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco fit this bill perfectly, so to speak, so it was little surprise when Skye Edwards and the other Londoners of Morcheeba proclaimed the intimate venue to be one of their favorite places in the world to play.

Mariee Sioux

Mariee Sioux

Opening the night of elegant, whimsical performance was Mariee Sioux, a Bay Area native who brought a shimmering voice and a haunting, delicate beauty to the evening’s beginning. To classify Mariee as a singer-songwriter is unjust; her association with casual singer/guitar players ends past her carrying the instrument, for her melodies rang of intricate folk tunes as well as dark, atmospheric compositions. It was unfortunate that she, and her backing band, were very difficult to hear; not only did the trio play at a mostly calmer pace and a similar volume, but the din of the patrons was rudely loud; hardly anyone acknowledged Mariee’s presence, aside from a brief few cheer breaks between songs. Despite this, she shone and sang with great passion, clearly quite happy to be where she was on the stage and quite overjoyed to bring her music to the people of the Fillmore, and her performance was all the better for it.

Will Sprott and Andy Paul of The Mumlers

Will Sprott and Andy Paul of The Mumlers

Despite the gentle opening and the eventual return-to-chill that Morcheeba was bound to bring later on, the night took an unexpectedly upbeat turn when the San Jose quintet known as the Mumlers took the stage. Armed with a rather complex array of instruments, including a tuba, French horn and clarinet, frontman Will Sprott led the band into a jumping, rollicking set of gorgeous tunes. Once again, this was a band that should not be labelled, lest it make them seem like they only fit one style. While the songwriting style seemed to hover somewhere between old country, upbeat blues, and strummy indie-rock, the orchestration knocked all the genre walls down as three of the four backing band members traded instruments from song to song. It seemed that each one played every single instrument onstage at least once in the set, and while most of the extra horn and woodwind section brought some old-fashioned feel to the music, they proved to be pleasantly unorthodox for some of the pieces. To hardcore fans of Morcheeba who were looking for a relaxing, groovy evening, this might have been a rather confusing inset, but I found it to be a fantastic performance, with excellent musicianship on behalf of the entire band.

John Muller and J.F. Holmes of The Mumlers

John Muller and J.F. Holmes of The Mumlers

However, when the lights of the Fillmore dimmed for the third time that night, it was the loudest peal of excited cheers to be heard yet for the evening as the men of Morcheeba took the stage. A few measures of opening number “The Sea” and some wild, coaxing shouts from the audience were all it took to get the soulful Skye Edwards to dance out onto the stage, grinning from ear to ear like she was having the time of her life. With no pause or hesitation, the band — after wrapping up their opening number to joyous applause — continued in the reign of their Big Calm record with “Friction”, sending the crowd into even louder cheers as Skye Edwards, now bathed in dark blue and purple light in the fog-filled auditorium, embraced the full character of the sound in her undulating, fluid movements of intricate dance. “Downtempo”, at this point, would be a violently unfair word; “groove soul” would be far more appropriate.

Skye Edwards and drummer Andy Robertson

Skye Edwards and drummer Andy Robertson

Chief contributors to Morcheeba’s vast, oceanic melodies was Ross Godfrey, the second half of the duo that make up the main songwriting mastermind behind Morcheeba, wailing away on his guitar. Amid the stacks of amplifier and microphones was a small cabinet with a rotating speaker (similar to a Leslie cabinet, often used for organs or other keyboard instruments), which produced an echo effect unlike anything produced by artificial delay or reverberations. In addition to this feat of technical brilliance, the layers upon layers of sound contributed by Ross, along with Steve Gordon (bass), Andy Nunn (keys), Andy Robertson (drums), and the other half of the Godfrey duo, Paul, enveloped the Fillmore in a lush sonic landscape. While chiefly filled with grooves and tunes that were soulful, trip-hoppy, and organic in their presence, each tune brought new life within the club’s walls, opening up a new door to the Godfreys’ musical world.

This comment, of course, is not at all hoping to take away from the marvelous presence that was frontwoman Skye Edwards. Between the songs that featured her graceful steps, scintillating movements and rich, soulful voice, she was in a ravenously happy mood. Despite tacking part of her excitement up to having a few shots of tequila onstage, she was the pinnacle of enthusiasm as she marveled at the showgoers and the city around her, expressing her great joy and gratitude to be able to come back and play in such a beautiful city. For the band’s performance of “Beat Of The Drum”, Skye took great pains to teach the crowd the refrain, urging them on and on to sing it louder and louder; her opening banter to the song, which attempted to split the men and women of the audience to sing in separate octaves, was rife with in-jokes from her bandmates and catcalls from the crowd, all of which she responded to with joyous aplomb.

Skye’s laughter and, at some points, almost-childlike excitement, was a wonderful stream of positivity, and the crowd fed off it with great vigor as they shouted, sang, and otherwise bellowed with great gusto through the song. Along with the dark new composition “Crimson”, as well as a few other pieces that evening, “Beat Of The Drum” built its way up into an extended jam session that brought the sashaying crowd up on the tops of their dancing feet. The closing song of the set, “Blindfold”, garnered an even more ecstatic response; the encore kicked the show into the highest gear yet, with explosive performances of “Be Yourself” and “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day”, before Skye hopped across the stage for a final goodbye as the evening came to a close.

Being that I find myself only casually listening to Morcheeba — or, at least, I did up until this point — I was wonderfully surprised with the show. Between the interesting, and exciting, pair of openers that came from two completely different angles of the musical spectrum, the sheer energy of Skye blended almost feverishly with the dense compositions that Morcheeba brought with them to this performance. It is a rare treat, and a great gift, to be pulled so quickly into a band’s grasp from only one performance, but Morcheeba do, indeed, have that power — and it is, perhaps, this fact, which kept Skye Edwards positively glowing for the full duration of the evening.

Morcheeba's setlist

Morcheeba's setlist

All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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