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Silky Surrealism and the Madness of the Crowd: Connan Mockasin live in London

21 June 2016, 09:59 | Written by John Bell

It’s taken a few days to write this review. To be precise, it’s taken a few days to decide where to begin. To replicate with a morsel of accuracy the cognitive dissonance experienced from experiencing Connan Mockasin’s contribution to the Southbank Centre’s yearly Meltdown festival – this year curated by Elbow’s Guy Garvey – allow me a moment of indulgence by presenting the evening in a series of snapshots.

A conventional scene. A tour manager somewhat awkwardly attempts to warm up the audience seated in the Southbank Centre’s majestic Royal Festival Hall before the New Zealand artist, donning a blue silk number and white beret, walks on stage with his band to open with “It’s Your Body” from the last full-length Caramel.

The distinctive white beret faces the stage. A few songs in Connan has stepped off the low stage and joined the front row, sitting amongst eager fans unsure how to react. He eventually stops playing, simply watching along amongst his audience, before dropping into a solo, riffing off the topless and hirsute Rory Mcarthy (brainchild behind Infinite Bisous). Fans from the wings draw closer to see their idol slowly at first, but within minutes half the room are running down the stairs and jumping over seats; sitting in the front middle stalls, we’re caved in by hundreds of hip, bright-eyed revellers. My pint will have to wait.

“I need a plaster”. Somehow the drummer’s quite standard request is drowned out by his own drumming, and instead interpreted as “James Blake, join the stage”. He is joined by The Invisible’s Dave Okumu, who Connan calls his “African father”, and who looks just as perplexed as Blake as they improvise unsurely along to a lengthy jam version of “Caramel”. It’s awkward but fun, and, lead by Connan, they find their feet in “I’m The Man That Will Find You”, as do any audience members who had heretofore remained seated. It feels like the climax of the evening as everyone vibes out, though in retrospect this seems premature.

“Round 2”. After a short break two young men looking more than comfortable in bra and knickers enter announcing the second part of the evening, and are shortly followed by the rest of the party. More nudity ensues as Connan gives his percussionist the eyes as if to say, “take off your shirt and let us all see that beautiful leather belt around your neck”. Naturally, he obeys.

It started with one showy, unruly young fan. With a forced nonchalance, she jumps on the low-stage with ease and picks up a shaker as if it were planned. To be fair, with the two ring “girls” from the intermission joining the percussionist, not to mention various other stage walk-ons from various crew, it does seem something of a free-for-all. But if Connan had pierced the fourth wall with a gentle touch to join his crowds, one by one they rip it to shreds as they return the favour with frenzied delight. They gyrate and spasm like a sixties’ freak-out, which is apt given the psych score of “Forever Dolphin Love”. The band are engulfed among the masses as one by one each instrument begins to cut out. As the crowds disperse slowly, desperately trying to touch Connan before being ushered off by security, he stands proudly in the centre, smiling, looking like some brilliant, psychedelic messiah.

Set List:

It's Your Body
It's Choad My Dear
Do I Make You Feel Shy?
Why Are You Crying?
Faking Jazz Together/Quadrapuss Island
Caramel (Extended Jam)
I'm The Man That Will Find You

Forever Dolphin Love
Megumi The Milky Way Above

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