Young Fathers brought their short UK tour to a sold-out Roundhouse last week. In an hour-long set they covered a range of material from their early career to recent release Cocoa Sugar and impressed with their dynamism and energy, effortlessly switching styles.
Belgian singer Charlotte Adigéry, stage name WWWater, supported, with a likeably overwhelmed persona as she took centre-stage between two other musicians (playing keys and drums) following a career to date as a backing singer of enviable repute. She performed songs from her recent debut EP, with several really allowing her to get the air into her lungs. Doing an incredible job of filling when her drummer encountered some technical problems, she was self-aware enough to know her job as the support, but when she really got going her voice was superb. It was a good job her drum tech managed to sort out the niggle, because the electric percussion really illuminated the later tracks.
As for Young Fathers, appearing as usual with a live drummer, they burst out of the traps, all blooping synths, rasping rap and smooth vocals.
Alloysious Massaquoi seemed something of the elder statesman of the trio, taller and bulkier than the others, emerging dressed in a jewel-studded jacket and a hat reminiscent of that on the cover of Cocoa Sugar. He danced like a puppet, his own master of course, occasionally taking a drum from the back of the stage for extra percussion.
Kayus Bankole ran around the stage like a Jack Russell, throwing his arms around and singing with both Hastings and Massaquoi, shaking his backside, strutting and pouting. A real showman, it wasn’t not long before his shirt is removed, as he ran to (and teetered on) the edge of the stage, gesturing to the audience and posing for the photographers in front of the band. One was so taken aback they stepped away to try and get him in shot.
G Hastings was an assured presence in between his bandmates, at times moving to the side of the stage to twiddle the knobs on a monstrous synth. The trio have been friends for many years and it showed, as they riffed off each other superbly, with total ease.
The range of vocals the group are able to produce is as impressive live as on record, from Hastings’ mid-range drawl to Bankole’s rap and the trio’s smoother, gospel-influenced verses. Holy Ghost was if anything even more guttural than the studio version, See How arguably sweeter.
It’s easy for a reviewer to look at the songs receiving their first airing on a tour and note how they sound fresher than the old hits. Young Fathers’ dynamism made this particular cliché redundant. When you listen to the albums, you don’t imagine them being a trio to get a crowd jumping. In fact, a raucous Get Up from first album DEAD did just that and proved perhaps the highlight of the gig.
Two tunes in succession from last album White Men Are Black Men Too saw the group silhouetted against the album cover’s shocking red. Old Rock ‘N’ Roll was as swaggering as ever. The infernally catchy Rain or Shine picked up the pace accompanied by a blinding strobe, something of a halfway house between the unbridled multi-part bop of Get Up and Lord’s warbling.
The new album was well represented, with a smattering of tracks throughout the set and three of the best; Tremolo, In My View and Lord saved up for near the end. The aforementioned See How was beautifully delivered while Toy’s urgency impressed. Even Wow, the album’s weakest song lyrically, sounded fresh and angry.
The music and moves were sufficient communication, with Hastings the only member of the band to actually speak to the audience, doing so just once to cheekily introduce final song Shame. The boys had to do more work to get the audience bopping on this than they did on Holy Ghost or Get Up, but they got there in the end, slowly vacating the stage so – who else? – Bankole was last to strut off against the last synth echoes.
Through no fault of their own, Young Fathers may make Hip Hop for Guardian readers, but at the Roundhouse they proved they can put on a live show as captivating and combative as anyone, for everyone.