17 Jul 2016
|Concert by Unkle|
|Location||Somerset House, The Strand, London WC2R 1LA|
Unkle performed this concert as part of the 'Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick' exhibition which was curated by James Lavelle at Somerset House.
Billed as ‘a unique audio visual show’, the main impetus for the screen projections on offer at UNKLE:REDUX tonight are the Stanley Kubrick tribute exhibition (also at Somerset House) curated by long-time admirer and UNKLE lynchpin James Lavelle himself. This is an intriguing prospect, especially after the success of director/composer John Carpenter’s recent spate of well-received live shows. Carpenter’s shows work because the music and film images are so obviously and inextricably connected, packing a pop culture whammy that is hugely enjoyable, if not terribly subtle.
The combination of UNKLE and Kubrick, however, has huge question marks hanging over it. Influence from film-maker to musician doesn’t necessarily mean that images and music automatically go together, as becomes plain tonight at several points (Rabbit In The Headlights gets a blood dripping The Shining hotel makeover, for no particularly discernible reason).
The centerpiece for this is a new four-screen work created especially for the exhibition: a Kubrick-esque installation backing the old Psyence Fiction song Lonely Days (which stars Joanna Lumley, no less). Kubrick was pegged to make his own video back in 1999, but then inconveniently died, meaning that it took 17 years for this pastiche of his ideas (think: corridors) to get made in his absence. While this makes a lot of sense in the context of the exhibition, the simplified version projected on the screen ‘reduxes’ it to what is almost always a terrible idea in live shows: projecting your music videos behind the performers.
A rumble down the corridors of The Shining works much better during Reign, but things are most effective when the visuals are kept looser and less figurative, as in a riff on the famous space flight from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Overall, there is neither a sense of cohesion nor progression to the visuals, which are in any case projected far too small at the back of the stage to have much impact on the crowd. It does, of course, take a formidable amount of vision and expertise to make such grand, cohesive live projections work (Kraftwerk and Massive Attack being perhaps the best current examples), but if you haven’t got the chops, don’t overstate the importance of your live audiovisual powers.
The other big problem tonight is the revolving door dynamic applied to the guest singers, who largely have to fill the boots of famous collaborators on record. The better known ones (Liela Moss from Duke Spirit and Eska, by far the strongest presence tonight) do serviceable jobs but their arrivals aren’t staged to actually mean something: nobody is announced or introduced, creating problems for the less high profile performers who struggle to make an impression on the crowd. This is a would-be live spectacle desperately in need of a ring-master, and, evidently, James Lavelle is not the man for the job. He admits to the audience that he’s not much of a talker, and his banter is rather awkward. This is fair enough, but we need a much stronger presence at the helm to make all the elements presented tonight come together.
Music For The Masses
...It’s fair to say things have been quiet with Unkle for the past couple of years, so when news emerged of Lavelle’s curation of the Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick Exhibition at Somerset House it’s fair to say we were greatly intrigued. Let alone the fact it was accompanied by an announcement of an Unkle Redux event at the legendary venue. Being well aware the redux performances have gone down as some of the most acclaimed live events utilising orchestral strings and electronica. This was going to be an evening we wouldn’t dare miss.
The redux event itself is billed as a unique audio visual show, linking in with the Stanley Kubrick exhibition. This undoubtedly was going to be an intriguing aspect but it’s fair to say any doubts were swiftly blown away. Lavelle’s appreciation of Kubrick is clear and the syncing of classic Unkle tracks with grand projected visuals of some of Kubrick’s most revered films such as A Clockwork Orange and The Shining fits stunningly. This is never more evident with the incredible ‘Reign’ bass heavy climax, back dropped against Danny from the Shining pursued through the frozen maze of the Overlook Hotel. Alongside the heavy guitar loops of ‘Restless’ panning out from the cruel sneer of Alex from a Clockwork Orange sipping milk. It’s absolutely mesmerizing and shows just how much work has gone into this performance. Also it’s particularly intriguing to see the video created for the Kubrick exhibition starring Joanna Lumley set against ‘Lonely Soul’ (Not Lonely Days as a leading press outlet reported). Something phenomenally unique and certainly set’s it apart.
Most importantly the performance is sublime. Jocelyn Pook offers a worthy support. But Unkle are on top form as always, guest singers including Eska and Liela Moss perfectly carry off renditions of classic tracks. The live orchestral element is stunning too, with a phenomenally tight string section which perfectly sits against the electronic beats of classics such as ‘An Eye for an Eye’ It’s also wonderfully touching to see the band paying tribute to their late collaborator, the amazing Gavin Clarke. We were a little gutted to see ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ missed from the playlist, but with such a great array of classic tracks on offer, there’s no room for complaints.
Somerset House has hosted some incredible events over the years, and never was a venue seemed so perfectly suited to the music on offer. The elegant strings and electronic beats of Unkle seem perfectly apt in the majestic surroundings of the purple lit courtyard of Somerset House sat amidst the chaotic Embankment.
With Lavelle’s mention of an upcoming new Unkle album and a preview of their new track ‘Cowboys or Indians’ going down astoundingly well, it’s fair to say we’re desperate to hear more. A world with more Unkle is surely a much better place