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Four years after last playing the sprawling labyrinth that is the Barbican and The Cinematic Orchestra return to promote their new long player “Ma Fleur”.

In 2003 they performed a specially commissioned soundtrack to Dziga Vertov’s ground breaking film Man With A Movie Camera“.

Back then my girlfriend punctured the air of highbrow reverence,  when queing at the bar during the interval an overexcited fan could contain himself no more and enthusiastically told her how it was “breathtaking, absolutely magical“… the poor soul received the sullen reply of “I was so bored, I fell asleep!”  Personally I enjoyed the dvd but I’d have to admit to never making it all the way through without the fast forward button seeing some action.

Tonight though its just the band, indeed far from being Cinematic they perform with just a large projected screen controlled I imagine by a bloke doing a crossword and trying not to nod off while flicking through all 10 slides at his disposal (1 per song). Over on last.fm Lastboyonearth a little harshly declared that the gig “could have been… attended by a blind man and not lost any of it’s shine“.

Of course the audience didn’t pay £20 quid to watch a projector – still or not – its the music, and the musicians that filled the Barbican’s very comfy seats. Thankfully the dozen or so musicians that make up the live Cinematic Orchestra experience are some of the finest around.

Drummers maybe under-appreciated, the but of a jokes, and the last one on the groupies wish list, but Luke Flowers (Cinematic Orchestra drummer) is at the heart of everything that’s great this evening. Hampered initially by unfortunate up-lighting that made him look like a man masturbating while holding a torch under his chin, he was nevertheless absolutely breathtaking. Limbs appeared to move as if separate from his body, a bit like a Jim Henson Supergrass video, but with a magical subtly and touch. A pounding bass drum, switched to the softest of cymbals taps in a flash, a joy to watch and hear, bizarre facial contortions included. The drum solo during “Ode To The Big Sea” was so brilliant, the audience sat in hushed awe, only to be perfectly summed up by the voice that bellowed through the resulting applause “Flowers! You’re a fucking legend“.

patrick

Canadian vocalist Patrick Watson has been the most controversial addition to the Cinematic family, with lead single “To Build A Home” suffering a barrage of “it’s Coldplay covering Anthony & The Johnsons” related abuse from purists. On the Ninjatune forum one wag (in the traditional non Colleen sense) suggested joining a Coldplay noticeboard and posting it as a leaked new track to see how many people noticed it wasn’t Gwynth’s hubby.

With just voice, piano and strings its more minimal than most CO tracks but after initially being unmoved by it I’m now firmly in the majestically beautiful tear inducing emotionally devastating camp. Aside from Flowers drum solo’s it probably received the biggest response of the evening coming as it did after a particularly jarring “this is our last song of the evening… oh look were back again for 3 more” style encores. Watson is clearly a star in the making, with a twitchy presence on stage interrupting Cinematic main mans Jason Swinscoe’s introduction to the song with an invitation to do sign language, making odd noises, and goofily piping up “hellooo strings” as they returned late to the stage. His live voice owes far more to Anthony and the Johnsons than on record with a very similar way of phrasing words (Owww-wa-all instead of All), but as Hegarty’s one of the most spine chillingly good vocalists around that’s hardly a criticism.

While “To Build A Home” was performed straight on the piano, Watson also guested on two other tracks using a nifty effects pedal to twist and distort his voice. Its a simple trick, but amazingly effective particularly on “Channel One Suite” from the first album. He playfully messed with his vocals, leaning back from the mic to scream while adjusting the dials on his pedal to bend the resulting sound into new shapes. At one point a yell was slowly echoed in on itself, phasing and growing until it reverberated above the audiences heads like a huge swarm of bees. If the music career doesn’t work out he’ll make a fortune creating Doctor Who? sound effects.

Reviewing the CO in Cardiff Bobby Parafino and his mate Teccers went mad for one of this evenings undoubted highlights “Man With A Movie Camera“.

I had warned Teccers that I’d go mental if they played Man With A Movie Camera. Although I didn’t quite make it to the crowd-surfing stage, I was ‘having a bit of a moment’ to myself. Lush, but then they did an extended guitar and keys bit and brought the sax back in again, which just killed me.

So far so very very good, but there were also frustrating flaws to the evening that took the edge off the performance. Some of the new songs in particular appeared slightly formulaic or too easy listening, reaching a point where I felt I could guess the make up of the next track… “Swinscoe presses play on Macbook.. hands behind back and watch, now double bass, and wait for it… drums“.

Listening to the string quartet of Esme Gaze, Antonia Pagulatos, Jote Osahn and Stella Page was like being plugged directly into the sound of heaven, but for much of the evening they were way way too low in the mix. Its such a rare treat to hear a band with a real string section so to underuse them borders on the criminal.

Then there was the problem of who wasn’t there, namely the awe inspiring vocal talents of Fontella Bass. Just as on 2002’s “Everyday” the presence of Fontella on two of the new album tracks lends a tangible weight and majesty to the both the tunes and the album itself. Trying to fill her vocal shoes is a poisoned chalice I wouldn’t wish on the greatest of vocalists, but thats exactly what Eska Mtungwazi had to do. On “Breathe“, one of the centrepieces of the new album, Bass sings “Breathe in, Breathe out, Breathe into me“, and every word resonates with emotion, experience, and meaning. When Eska – powerfully and with an obviously brilliant voice – delivered those very same lines that emotional power just wasn’t there and all that’s remains is a fairly mundane “Breath in, Breath out” lyrical motif.

Great voices, but “wash in, wash out” (or whatever they said) over and over again for about 3 minutes is poor. Or saying “yeah, oooooo” all the time. Come on!” – NoBullshi- on Last.fm

Reactions on the web have been mostly very positive, for example their myspace is crammed full of “blown aways, inspirationals, beautifuls, and some I shall never forget it’s” but others offered only qualified approval. Long time CO fan Nobullshi- questioned the crowd reaction: “why were people going so mental? I don’t get it. I see bands all the time, but I don’t lose my mind“. Bobby Parafino gave them 8.5 out of 10 while conducting a fashion review of the band:

Phil France on bass – encapsulating the archetypal Ninja Tune look of skinny young DJ with short hair and a bit of a scruffy student look, Patrick Watson: New York beatnik meets Fight Club meets Badly Drawn Boy meets every crusty student ever” and of course “Luke Flowers on drums – at times looking like a long-limbed chimp making lovely ‘S’ shapes and loops with his arms“.

365 Bits missed a bus, had a hand that stunk of coffee, but thought CO were excellent nevertheless.

The Cinematic’s ended the night with what Im led to believe was a cover of Stravinsky’s “Rites Of Spring” although having hit soulseek in search of Stravinsky I couldn’t hear any similarities myself? Built around a huge super fat fuzzy bassline that Stuart Macallum somehow managed to wrench out of his guitar and through the effects pedal. Every member of the band switched their dials to 11 for a feast of raw energy. The string section was right upfront and soaring, Flowers hurled his limbs about on drums, while Tom Chant’s sax went into a frenzy during a final chaotic freeform jazz freak out at the end. Stravinsky or not it was brilliant, and a killer way to end the evening.

Cinematic Orchestra: Myspace / Website / Superb fansite (best for CO news)

Patrick Watson: Myspace / Website (including free MP3 downloads)

Listen:
The Cinematic Orchestra – Rite of Spring (Live @ The Barbican)” (MP3)Buy live album

The Cinematic Orchestra – To Build a Home (Radio edit)” (MP3)Buy Ma Fleur album

The Cinematic Orchestra – All Things To All Men (featuring Roots Manuva)” (MP3) – Genius!! Buy “Everyday” album

Watch:
The Cinematic Orchestra go to Specsavers… should they? (YouTube)

The Cinematic Orchestra – “All That You Give (feat. Fontella Bass)” (YouTube)

Man With a Movie Camera (1929) (Google Video + download) – Cinematic Orchestra soundtrack

Buy:
The Cinematic Orchestra – “Live at the Barbican 06/05/07”
Live recording of Barbican gig available on CD from Concertlive – well worth it if you love the album

The Cinematic Orchestra – “Ma Fleur” £9 Amazon

More albums

Pictures:
My flickr pics of the gig (not great)

Campbell Imray was right up the front (Flickr set)

Timothy Cochrane’s photo blog (well worth a visit)

Read:
Pixel Surgeon interview with J Swinscoe.

Album reviews: The Guardian is seduced 4/5 “Ma Fleur delineates an immensely moving, utterly distinct night-time world which is a pleasure to inhabit.Drowned in Sound enthuses as they drown in film noir pretentiousness, while swimming against the tide the Beeb slates it, saying “the sound of multitudes of music critics, as they rush to retract their premature hailing of Swinscoe as a nu-jazz genius” will be far more interesting than the album itself.

Setlist:
The Awakening of a Woman (Burn Out)
Child Song
As The Stars Fall
Familiar Ground
Ode to the Big Sea
Breathe
Man With A Movie Camera
To Build A Home
Channel 1 Suite
Rites of Spring