Youngblood Brass Band: Shoreditch ‘The Village Underground’
As I alighted onto the platform at Shoreditch High Street, I began to smell the distinctive scent of undercut.
Live at The Village Underground Shoreditch London Friday 8th November 2013
I was here to see Youngblood Brass Band and excitement was beginning to bubble in me, anticipation slowly dispersing the dregs of last nights’ hangover.
The venue was a refurbished railway viaduct from 1848; high ceilings, stripped red brick and iron girders; Simple, open and dynamic. In the heart of London’s saccharine fashionistas the nine-piece took to the stage in an unassuming uniform of jeans and t-shirt, ranging from black all the way to dark grey. They looked tired, and as this was last night of the UK tour leg, following nine consecutive nights playing their explosive fusion of jazz, funk, punk, soul and punchy hip-hop; blurred edges and eye bags were to be expected. However as the first notes blared, a solid take on Chakra Kahn’s “Ain’t nobody”, it became clear this was merely aesthetic, baring no relation to the might that was about to unleash.
They quickly jumped into ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” and “The Plank will nod and you will follow“; a piece with the countenance of a Manic depressive, switching between aggressive brass crescendos and stripped back pacey lyricism in nano-seconds. With such a big sound, it would be easy to descend into white noise, but the levels and playing were incredibly tight and they had all the precision of their recordings.
In between songs, the M.C and percussionist Skoden mumbled something about playing a lot of material from their new album “Pax Volumi”, and made a joke about being from Wisconsin, which elicited one laugh from an American girl stood next to me. It was clear. They were not here to oil out witty banter, or even speak much, they were here for one thing and that was to kill it.
On track D.H. Skoden has an Eminem-esque tone, and his hard-hitting transcendental imagery, like modern-day beat poetry, delivered with incredible skill, tenacity and flow, is an important element separating them from other Brass bands. However the live vocals were slightly lost in the cacophony of brass and passion, falling more into a Zach de La Rocha scream, than anything else.
What I found strange was that, whilst on stage there was the rawest multi-coloured fusion of fingers hitting valves and harmonies vibrating from varying sized brass bells, the rest of the dance floor (aside from the odd pockets of woops and fist pumping) seemed to think they were in a Victorian parlour. It was not until they played “Nuclear Summer” (which it is biologically impossible (or at least dangerous) to listen to whilst stood still) that the crowd started to move a bit.
During the sousaphone solo in “Brooklyn” the first of three ‘Last songs”, even the tightest top knot was staring to shake loose. There was a tangible moment when the space ceased to contain entertainers and audience, in-place one organism with a ferocious bellowing mouth and swinging body gyrated wildly. It was modern day tribal - not some loose romanticised hippy rhetoric - but a necessary antidote to the frazzled to-do lists. To connect to other people more gracefully than small talk or snap chat.
I was trying to write down the set-list in my Phone, whereupon a towel hit me in the face and the American girl next to me screamed to “stop texting”. It appeared the crowd had woken up completely and were not leaving any stragglers; so it was only polite that I start skanking as hard as possible.
They ended with “Is an elegy” and a piece from the first album “Better Recognise”, which afforded a round of solo’s; what was amazing was the lack of Ego involved, no pretensions, no feeling of ownership, just musicians playing for the love of playing, each face utterly lost within the music.
When they left the stage and the speakers began to blare with mechanical Dubstep, the reality there would be no more encores sank in. I was left sweaty and stunned and confused. YBBB had come and left like a rare American bird, an oasis of pure unfettered energy in a desert of people desperately holding back, to try and achieve “cool”. In our era of massive arena shows, Youngblood Brass Band proved that real passion, musicianship and skill doesn’t need a million pound lighting rig to deliver it.