Woodkid and The BBC Concert Orchestra at Brixton Academy, support Benjamin Clementine
Acclaimed director-turned-musician Yoann Lemoine aka Woodkid put on a stonking show at the O2 Academy Brixton backed by the BBC Concert Orchestra
Following the release of his debut album in March of this year – The Golden Age – Woodkid has been on tour pretty much constantly – all over the place – and it now it was Brixton’s turn to host him.
Yoann Lemoine has spent most of his professional life as a director and has worked on a number of music videos for the likes of Drake and Rihanna, Lana Del Ray and Moby, but last year decided he wanted to start making music himself and the results are pretty impressive.
Before it was Woodkid’s turn, support act Benjamin Clementine took to the stage. The first time I saw Clementine was on ‘Later With Jools Holland’ and it was on of those moments that made me stop and really listen. He’s a bit like musical Marmite – you either love his style or you hate it. He walked on stage with a shabby-looking coat (with nothing underneath it), trousers and no shoes. A single light on the big stage shone on a piano and he calmly sat down and slammed his hands down on it and started playing. His voice flits between deep and almost operatic to soulful to talking/singing (with lots in between). The first track he played was ‘I Won’t Complain’ – a melancholy song about trying remaining optimistic about life when it gets tough. The song’s a strange mix of being optimistic and sinister at the same time, with lines like ‘The more you hate me the more you help me…the more you love me the more you hurt me’. He belted it out with and thumped the piano (very well) and caught everyone’s attention. There’s definitely something a bit magnetic about him.
His set was short and included the other two songs on his self titled EP, with the stand out track being ‘Cornerstone’. It was met with whoops and cheers from the audience (it was the track he played on ‘Later…’) and it was packed with emotion. After his final track he soaked up the applause of the academy and took his bow. Weirdly though, he went back to mic and then said we should all ‘thank the soldiers’, whilst it was a couple of days after Remembrance Sunday, it still seemed a bit of an odd end the set.
Next up was the main man and all you could see on stage were about three music stands, two large drums, steel pans, a keyboard and a drum machine. Although a decent line up of instruments it left you thinking ‘Where’s the Orchestra? Woodkid’s band came on stage and started playing. As momentum started to build the backdrop of the stage shot up and there was the orchestra behind along with a great big screen above them! The crowd went mad and the orchestra of violinists, viola players, cello players and more swept the academy up with them. Then on came Woodkid and the piano player started to play, black and white visuals of an massive empty cathedral covered the screen behind them, and he started the show with ‘Baltimore Fireflies’ from his 2012 EP. From the word go it was dramatic and impressive, with the BBC orchestra giving it that extra punch.
After his first song, Woodkid said simply – above the screaming crowd – “It’s a great honour to be here…in this amazing venue….I feel very humble, small and French!…This may be last show in London for a while, so let’s make it a f**king party!’ At which point everyone whooped even louder.
And a party it was in a lot of ways. His set was a mix of tracks from his album and his EP ‘Iron’. Not only did the tracks sound cracking, but the visuals and light effects were incredible. His experience as a director was blatant, as he seemed in control of every strobe flash, every swoop of the orchestra, and every image on the background screen. He seemed to conduct the lot.
There were certain tracks that really stood out. ‘The Great Escape’ with its swoony string section, followed by a galloping percussion (genuinely making you think of cowboys on horses) sounded great and echoed around the academy and sounded very cinematic. ‘Where I Live’ was also really strong; much slower and narrative-heavy with warm trumpets running throughout. The album’s title track was also a moment that got his loyal fans whipped up in a frenzy.
‘Run Boy Run’ was the end of Woodkid’s set. It had a great mix of a strong string section, along with speedy percussion and topped off by Woodkid’s cool vocals. It was a great way to wind down what had been an action packed night. But, the audience weren’t having any of it – at the end of the song they all started singing the chorus chant back so much so that Woodkid and his band started the song back up again. It was a good gig moment.
It was an impressive spectacle of a show. You came away feeling like your senses had been well and truly blasted (in a good way). Whilst critics could say there’s a certain formula to his music (strings, thumping percussion and cool vocals are a regular feature), with production value like the Academy show, you’d be hard pushed to find much fault in it. The lights, camera and action of it all, made it a pretty memorable show.