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Neneh Cherry – Concrete, London 26/02/14

28 February 2014, 14:46 | Written by Thomas Hannan

Everyone here might be uncomfortably hot and, bar those in the front row, only actually able to see Neneh Cherry in fleeting glimpses caught between other people’s heads, but you have to admit, Concrete’s stark, stern feel matches the songs of Blank Project pretty perfectly.

Familiar and yet imposing, certainly ‘cool’ without being something you’d expect your wider circle of associates to enjoy… the parallels between Cherry’s don’t-call-it-a-comeback and this East London basement continue, but will stop being drawn there. Even limiting the subject to just Neneh Cherry and her music, there’s so much to say one could go on endlessly (which hopefully won’t happen either).

Their producer Four Tet might not be on stage with them this evening, but the rest of the people behind the excellent Blank Project are, meaning Cherry’s bright orange dress-clad frame is flanked by “the brothers Page”, aka Tom and Ben of synth/drums duo Rocketnumber9. Though their contribution to the album arguably defines much of its sound, tonight’s set begins with a showcase of what is always kept front and centre, Cherry’s wonderfully expressive vocals being pretty much all that exists to the desolate “Across The Water”. With its arrival, a previously bustling room becomes stunned, silent and still.

With nearly every person and presumably much of the exact same kit on the stage as there would have been in the studio, one could be forgiven for expecting a pretty dry run through of Blank Project’s various successes. But what comes across with most force is how organic the whole process seems, how much this feels like a band playing together rather than a singer fronting some songs. They take visual cues from each other, laughing off having to restart songs like “Spit Three Times” because the fragile nature of this paradoxically forceful sound is something they’re aware benefits from not being overly polished.

Groove is particularly important here, and when Rocketnumber9 and Cherry are firmly set in theirs, there’s no budging. The set’s highlights come in the form of the record’s title track, delivered early on to a room who suddenly seem to remember how to nod their heads like piston engines, and the standout “Weightless”, which – from the amount of dancing she does to its brutal instrumental passages – one suspects might be Cherry’s favourite of the bunch as well. On record, a lot of contrasting emotions exist in these songs, from paranoia and claustrophobia to aggression and wild, joyous abandon, all sharing space in a single track. When played live, it seems every facet is amplified.

Many of these tunes were recorded in one take – tonight, they’re delivered with an urgency that has one believing that this could feasibly be the second. Things aren’t exactly hurried, but they’re certainly visceral, a thrilling method of working in which this trio seem to thrive. As she replies with a grin when someone asks her how she’s doing up there, “I feel good. I feel at home.”

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