Live at The Stylus, Leeds 12th October, 2019
Jordan Rakei’s most recent album, Origins, blends elements of soul, jazz, sensitive singer-songwriter stuff and dance. It’s a smooth listen on the sofa at home. Live; I was expecting him to convert the studio blend into something compelling. Sadly, it was the other way round.
I’ve seen countless bands that I didn’t really ‘get’ on record but made sense live. What Jordan did was to demonstrate that his carefully engineered electronic constructions don’t translate to the live environment of a traditional venue. By the 45 minute mark there was a good deal of chattering in the crowd and I could see I wasn’t the only one uninspired. Time and again, a song would move through too many phases and finally hit a tasty groove, only to end a minute later with me wishing the tasty bite had become a meal. The shifting sections of the songs would have worked well for a quiet, seated performance but a venue like Leeds Stylus is a place for movement and a continuous groove that failed to arrive.
Sensitive songs will have worked for lovers of the albums but the thuddy mix didn’t let Rakei’s lovely voice carry the words and the early promise of opener, Mad Mad World, from the new album, was not fulfilled. Jazzy piano moments or guitar solos came but, like the grooves, ended way too soon. Rakei is a serious performer and you can see the focus in his face as his sensitive songs are emoted. As he said early on: “this one is about remaining positive through negativity”. Some solo keyboard work allowed the vocals to take centre stage but was a flicker amongst an otherwise uninvolving evening. Wildfire had some tasty conga action and a bigger arrangement but was let down by it’s lack of strength as a song.
I was left wishing that the gig was one thing or another. Focus on the voice would be good, as would some jazzy grooves, some soulful moves or a bit of four-to-the floor; instead we got a mixture that didn’t show either Jordan Rakei’s best or his band’s strengths.