Benjamin Clementine at Brixton Academy: Pushing the boundaries of live music performance
Mercury Prize-winning musician Benjamin Clementine continued to push the boundaries of music earlier this year with his eclectically experimental sophomore album I Tell a Fly. Now, if his show at the O2 Academy in Brixton on 5th December is anything to go by, he’s pushing the boundaries of live music performance.
Immaculately attired with a shawl draped over his shoulders and coiffured hair – like he’d just stepped out of the Harlem Renaissance – the English musician sat at his grand piano on centre stage, surrounded by an ensemble of shop mannequins. All this while flanked by his drummer and guitarist in elevated positions to the left and right, and multi-coloured lights embellished the extravagant set-up, illuminated from different directions.
Beginning the concert with piano ballad Farewell Sonata and flawlessly transitioning to the visceral God Save the Jungle, it appeared as if the singer was going to be delivering an entirely seated performance. But in the middle of By the Ports of Europe, Clementine left his seat to chant “Porto Bello!” feverishly at the audience with his band members. The trio then left the stage in a heightened atmosphere, only to snake through the crowd continuing their spirited chant before returning to the platform.
It was a completely unexpected display and one of many surprises throughout the evening. Other highlights included reading the first page of The Selfish Giant in the encore, dismembering the mannequins, and encouraging the crowd to sing the potent post-chorus of Condolences by telling them: “Imagine singing We Are the Champions”. The latter, an example of his disarming sense of humour and incredible degree of self-awareness, was a welcome contrast with the heavy lyrical, piano-driven content of his music – the Academy had run the whole gamut of emotions by the end of the night.
Considering the lack of dance-able songs (bar London, which had the whole crowd moving, the majority of whom were indeed Londoners), Clementine and his two instrumentalists gave a stellar performance, with bouts of witty banter and audience interjections of “Beautiful music!” and “Ben, have my baby!” augmenting the entertainment value of his artful presentation.
Benjamin Clementine makes complex, non-mainstream music accessible through his performance and swooning vocal delivery. Think Nina Simone, Little Richard and Prince for the 21st century. He’s found his dedicated audience, who were rewarded with an unforgettable spectacle that was a dazzling hybrid of live music and performance art.
Photos: Guifré de Peray
For further information and future events visit Benjamin Clementine’s website here.
Watch the video for Jupiter here: