Alice Russell @ Beck's Festival Bar, Sydney (29/01/09)

Image for Alice Russell @ Beck's Festival Bar, Sydney (29/01/09)

Already in 2009 we in Sydney have been lucky to see some of the UK’s best soul/funk/jazz producers and DJs. Jamie Lidell, Gilles Peterson and Mr Scruff have all done their thing, and my goodness did they do it well. Now, with the Playground Weekender festival rolling into town (or not, as the case may be) we get to see the ever-so-talented Mark de Clive Lowe and Alice Russell. Ah, Sydney in summer time – where would you rather be?

Mark de Clive Lowe is a half Kiwi, half Japanese producer formerly based in London, but now on his way to LA. Described by Gilles Peterson as “the man behind a million great tunes”, he was also the driving force behind London’s Freesoul Sessions. Joined onstage at Beck’s Festival Bar by Vanessa Freeman, together they made an impressive blend on nu-jazz and broken beats.

The frenetic MdCL had – among other things – at least two keyboards, an MPC and a Kaos pad. The complexity of the music he produced was very impressive. The rapport between him and Freeman was obvious, and hinted at the time the two had spent together during the Freesoul Session nights. Highlights of the set included a gorgeous cover of Days Like This, and the broken-beat heaviness of Hold it Down – itself a cover of a Quantic Soul Orchestra and Alice Russell track. There’s been much said about Sydney crowds, and in particular those who have been attending the Sydney Festival events, but seeing a bunch of smiling, dancing punters getting down to this music did much to restore my faith in this city.

It was obvious that most people were there to see the gorgeous Miss Russell, however. For those who have only heard her voice, her physical presence can be surprising – how can that big a voice come from that small a woman? All the tracks played came from her two most recent solo albums, except for a rocking version of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. I would have like to hear some of her older stuff, but when she has a new album out it’s unsurprising that most material came from that. The re-work of Hurry On Now (originally released on Under the Munka Moon) was a highlight – as it is on the album, Pot of Gold.

This is the first time I’ve seen her perform with someone other than the QSO or The Bamboos as a backing band, but her new band is just as impressive. The work of the gentleman on violin and backing vocals was particularly good, as was that of the guy on keys. Suffice to say, she wasn’t let down by anyone, despite the heat!

The ecstatic crowd was treated to an encore in which Kathryn de Boer of Belleruche joined Alice onstage, and their cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy was an absolute cracker. Russell has earned herself a name as an extraordinary entertainer, and this performance showed why.

The night was not done though, as local turntablist Mickey Morphingaz took to the stage. Joined by Christine Eva, Morphingaz served up a high-energy hip-hop and funk flavoured set. In the past I’ve found him a touch hit and miss, but this set was just what was called for. Despite the talent on display on the night, Eva’s voice was not over-shadowed – no mean feat. As a friend of mine said as we left: “Who says you can’t have fun on a school night?”

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DuncanM said on the 4th Feb, 2009

I've been told that "Hold It Down" is actually originally a 4Hero track - tune spot fail!