Show Review: Morcheeba at The Warfield, 3/5/11

by Raffi Youssoufian on March 6, 2011

Thanks to flickr user avantard for use of the picture

About thirteen years ago, while waiting first in line to get in to a Portishead show at the very same venue, a girl gave me a promo cassingle, yes, a cassingle, of “The Sea.”  Some months later, I found myself at the The Fillmore, having one of the best times, seeing Morcheeba having one of the best times, performing that night.  It was during the height of their most treasure release Big Calm, and the at the peak of their buzz.  They shared a ridiculous amount of energy on stage, and that spark reflected mutually with the audience.  I can’t remember one person who wasn’t dancing that night.   Most often it’s very difficult for trip-hop bands to translate their sound in a full, warm, and lush manner, but somehow the simplicity of the music and the wizardry of the Godfrey brothers set them apart.

Originally comprised of the those brothers, Ross and DJ Paul Godfrey and the sweetly soulful vocalist Skye Edwards, the band has gone through many ups and downs together.  After the release of Big Calm, their subsequent albums were never met with the same acclaim from fans, and much more from critics.  Fragments of Freedom, sold well, but was a huge flop and became known as their “happy” album.  I don’t want to sound like a sourpuss, but it’s easily my least favorite of their records.  Charango had its moments, but highlighted the departure of Skye.  Releasing two more albums with different vocalists without much praise, we all knew what had to be done.  With some fence mending, Skye rejoined the group for the 2010 release of Blood Like Lemonade.

The openers, San Jose’s own The Mumlers, sort of fit their name in some bizarre way.  A load of guys just appeared on stage with horns a blazing.  The first song with trumpet/saxophone/tuba, yes, a tuba, set the mood perfectly.  A sort of American version of the English band Gomez, they model themselves as a sort of grab bag of musical styles that slip into and out of every song.  At moments they sound a little like poor man’s Grizzly Bear, other moments they look like they’re having too much fun to sound like Grizzly Bear.  Instilling some blues, some bluegrass, some groovy bass lines, and some lively keyboarding, there’s no reason this band shouldn’t be on a station like Alice 97.3.  The Alice fans need a more interesting band they can latch onto, leaving the likes of the tiresome Train, at the station.  The Mumlers look like they are close to getting there, but just need a little fine tuning.  Some of the songs ran a bit long, and seemed a bit too repetitive.  The tuba/keyboard/guitar/bass player was by and far the Zach Galifianakis of the band, as he was the most entertaining.  He was a one man band! He did everything from playing the keyboard like a cat swatting a fly, to playing the tuba while playing a tambourine with his foot! Grizzly Bear could use that in their repertoire!

I made a small bet with myself about how many songs from Big Calm, Morcheeba would play during the set.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if they went through the whole record, and honestly I would have preferred it! Genre specific fans are always more loyal, so it was no surprise that all the trip hop fans came out in full force packing the place up to the brim.  I’m going to assume the reception for Skye was a little louder when they played the Fillmore last year on their first reunion tour, but coming out in a sparkling red dress and covered with a beautiful cape attached to her arms so that it gave her wings when she spread her arms out, the place erupted.

Spread far apart on stage, almost a “sea” between every member *cough*, drums bass, and keys, and the brothers on guitar and turntables, to everyone’s delight, they jumped right into “The Sea.” From the first note, heads and shoulders started nodding in agreement, the same way hip hop fans do when an old jam is thrown on the decks.  In between songs the band could not stop smiling.  Ross mentioned how they always look forward to playing SF more than anywhere in the US, and whether it was that or just being on stage together, they were elated.  Skye was very interactive with the crowd, and her very high heels did not slow her down in the dancing and jumping department.  On just about every song off Big Calm, she tried to get the audience to participate, and every time they obliged.  Her similar attempts on other songs from other albums like “To the Beat of the Drum” off the newest record, needed a little more effort, but still effective.

The old songs like “Friction” and “Part of the Process” received the biggest of ovations and instigated the most booty shaking.  But the strange part, and of course this may have been aided by the amout of smoke inhalation *cough* that evening by the crowd, was that everyone seemed excited and knew the words to songs from other albums.  Do other Morcheeba fans like these other records? I haven’t had a panel discussion, but it could apparently be true!

They only played a handful of songs from the new album.  Three of those songs are easily the most radio friendly, but I’d say the most boring.  “Crimson” was definitely the one new song I enjoyed live.  To round out the set, they played two from Charango, one from the “happy” record, one from the first album, and six from Big Calm.

A good few minutes of cheering and stomping got them to come out for three more songs.  Having not played “Over and Over”, I knew it was coming, and when Ross grabbed the acoustic guitar for the first, and only time, I knew it was coming.  It was by far my favorite song of the evening, mainly because it was only song they changed.  It’s really their only ballad, but after the first verse a great drum n bass beat set in with a warm walking bass line, which added a new depth and urgency to the song.  Closing out the encore, they played my least favorite song in their entire catalog (Yay!), “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day.” It’s basically your run of the mill feel good pop-soul/70s throwback anthem that has nothing to do with Italy.  The only saving grace was the “From Russia With Love” intro that Skye seems to love to do more than anything.

Morcheeba seems to have evoked some of the essence of old, but it almost seemed like they were on autopilot.  In some way, it felt like they were just trying to recapture what they had in the past because it was what fans, like me, wanted to hear.  Even though I was really excited to see them again, and everyone people did have a great time, (I did hear fans while exiting, say things like, “That was so awesome”, “Fantastic show”, “I love Morcheeba!”), in some small way, it was a tad depressing, because they really haven’t moved forward musically, or perfected their niche.  They were ecstatic to be up there, and Skye is a captivating performer, but I got the feeling they wanted more.  And hopefully, this latest record was just something to re-acclimate themselves to each other, and the subsequent records will take them where they might want to go.

Set List:

  1. The Sea
  2. Friction
  3. Otherwise
  4. Never An Easy Way
  5. Even Though
  6. Coming to Los Angeles – Arlo Guthrie Cover
  7. Part of the Process
  8. Blood Like Lemonade
  9. Slow Down
  10. Crimson
  11. Trigger Hippie
  12. To The Beat of The Drum
  13. Blindfold

Encore:

  1. Over and Over
  2. (Did not recognize)
  3. From Russia With Love/Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

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