Show Review: Shobaleader One (Squarepusher) at the UC Theatre, 6/27/2017

by Jonathan Pirro on June 30, 2017

Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) of Shobaleader One

Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) of Shobaleader One

A big issue I’ve taken up many times with electronic music is the fact that many top-selling, well-known acts are able to craft their musical set — and perform it — with incredibly little effort, sometimes less than a single button press. Many circles of music fans mock massively popular DJs for this “just push play” approach to touring, and I’m among them; I appreciate a great live show as much as anyone, but there should be a balance of performance and spectacle. In addition, it’s easy to bury the lack-of-complexity in a lot of pop-centered dance sets under piles and piles of dazzling lights, psychedelic projections, and spiffy lasers. If any of these sound like your own pet peeves with music that has mostly been composed with the aid of a machine, then you’ll want to make a point to see Shobaleader One, the latest project helmed by IDM artist Tom Jenkinson, best known for his work as Squarepusher. Theirs is a live performance bereft of automated tracks, flashy lights, or colorful costumes; instead, it’s a tour-de-force of stunningly-complex grooves played at dizzying tempos — the sort of thing that would appeal to electronic, jazz, and progressive fans alike.

Duffey

Duffey

Having described the full experience of the Shobaleader set, I will admit that the most disappointing part of the show were the opening acts — simply because theirs was an entirely different vibe than what the headlining set would be. DJs Duffey and Daedalus — whom I’ve seen before, to great effect, performing solo and with Kneebody — were good starters to get the energy going, and probably sat well with the crowd that were looking for an EDM night and far more danceable stuff, but they definitely fell into much more of a slow groove, with steady tracks that had no particular standouts. Duffey seemed to be very focused on his work, but spent a LOT of time gesturing to the crowd and acting in a very typical DJ fashion; Daedalus, by contrast, moved swiftly and sharply to his beats, concentrating hard on manipulating his controllers constantly throughout his own set. At a different show, and with a different mood, I would have enjoyed these two as palate-whetters to begin a full set of electronic courses, but in this case it simply seemed to prolong the length of the evening more than the enjoyability.

Daedalus

Daedalus

I saw Squarepusher in concert about five years ago, and in addition to the LED-emblazoned helmet that he wore, he had a table and stage absolutely drenched in lights, so every song was a magnificent fireworks display of white, strobing lights. In stark contrast, the black-robed assemblage of Shobaleader One were all possessed of LED helmets, but very little extra light was given to the stage, making for an extremely minimal (and challenging to shoot!) onstage setup — each player even had a bright white light pinned to their helmet to help them see in the dark! Despite the low-key, bordering-on-immobile stances that the four members of Shobaleader One took in their places onstage, they hurtled into their set with nary an initial prompt, and the first song burst forth with all the frenetic energy of a highly-caffeinated jazz band. All four members play with astounding dexterity, precision, and skill, and were mesmerizing to behold as they soared through the set with what appeared to be the greatest of ease.

Arg Nution of Shobaleader One

Arg Nution of Shobaleader One

Aside from extensive nods and bows to the audience before each of their two (!) encores, the players of Shobaleader One acknowledged very little about the room around them during the course of their set. Each one was centered on the extensive grooves of each track; they moved seamlessly from melodies to solos, with a great deal of the rhythm work being handled by Jenkinson (on bass that evening) and drummer Company Laser. The helmets were all sound-responsive, so it was easy to tell who was contributing the greatest amount of volume to each track, and Laser’s helmet stayed brightly lit for nearly all of the set, with Jenkinson and guitarist Arg Nution not far behind. As far as I was able to tell, nearly all of the music was played live; occasionally, keyboardist Strobe Nazard would add a gentle backing track or some programmed-key melodies, but the percussion and low end were handled exclusively by the expert hands of Laser and Jenkinson.

Company Laser of Shobaleader One

Company Laser of Shobaleader One

Fans of electronic shows will find Shobaleader One to be wildly different from most live performances; their blend of lightning-fast playing, delicate lighting, and extensive jazz-based compositions might be too complex, or too complex, for many to deal with. As a fan of exciting, surprising shows, however, I found the entire set to be thoroughly enjoyable — an impressive feat, considering that I’d barely listened to any of the music that they’ve released thus far. The music’s roots — in chaotic IDM and free jazz — blend marvelously well, and the full show is a treat for the senses. For a very unique and compelling performance, be sure not to miss this group on tour.

Shobaleader One's setlist

Shobaleader One’s setlist

 

Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2017 Jonathan Pirro.

Shobaleader One:

Daedalus:

Duffey:

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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