GoGo Penguin ‘Live From Studio Two’
(Streamed from Abbey Road on 29 October 2020. Review by Lavender Sutton)
Blue Note label band GoGo Penguin are originally from Manchester, but have risen quickly to international popularity in the last five years, notably after v2. 0 (Gondwana) was named a Mercury Prize album in 2014. Their most recent (and fifth) self-titled album came out in June this year, full of intricate repeating themes that fit into their library of previous ventures while showcasing their refinement and emotional development.
In this Live From Studio Two concert, Gogo Penguin have curated a collection mostly from this June release, along with compositions from previous albums Manmade Object and A Humdrum Star.
After some confusion among fans (notably in the concert streaming comment box) as to whether they were watching a livestream or a pre-recorded concert, it was clarified that the band had recorded the session live in the studio, but that was then taped and played for fans who had gathered at 8pm on Thursday evening to participate in the event. There were over a thousand people in attendance from all over the world – Brazil to Japan and all around the UK – which shows the reach and impact Gogo Penguin that have had musically.
Studio Two was interestingly lit with fluorescent tubes hung strategically around the grand piano and created a ‘studio in the round’ effect. Lewis Howell is the band’s regular lighting collaborator and this element of the performance heightened the concert in a way that made it feel like performance art, rather than a gig. This is an fascinating approach during our current climate because the listeners were being invited to observe something unique – changing, experimental, creative – rather than be included – where they could clap and react. It felt right to be enjoying this music in this way.
Pianist Chris Illingworth kicked things off with a growing mantra-like melody in Totem – punctuated with cymbal rolls as the piano pattern began to billow and surge. Illingworth is usually the heartbeat of this trio as he controls each figure as it changes, continues, rises and falls. The themes are all very similar in format, but each one has a slightly different emotion connected to it. This brings back the feeling of viewing ‘art’ in a sense, rather than ‘music’. One tiny change seems to set the rest of the piece into motion, turning in a new direction.
Bardo had a more electronica feel to it. Muting the strings within the piano created a more stagnant sound. Drummer Rob Turner showed off here, utilising a wide variety of textures, lots of ticks, clicks and rolls that create a complex double time feel to Illingworth’s simple piano pattern. The suspenseful feeling of this composition incites imagery of watching a sci-fi mystery at its most climactic point.
Bassist Nick Blacka takes the reins in Open and there is a feeling of less structure and more improvisation for the first time. This one has more weightiness to it as it sits in a lower range in the piano and when Blacka employs the use of the bow near the end, there’s a real beauty in how they’re all working together to build the layers of sound.
In Strid, from a previous album, each instrument feels like it’s being elevated at the exact time – depending on how you listen, you can focus in on each instrument independently and be intrigued but equally as the sounds blend together, there are all kinds of interesting connections.
Kora, from the most recent album, is another electronica inspired tune, fun to watch and listen to, as it has a hemiola-like change in the melody. Just when you think you could sing along it changes ever so slightly. It’s a reminder of just how eccentric and complicated this music is and how talented these guys have to be to write it and play it.
Finishing with Protest may have been a political nod and definitely a powerful artistic move. It sent everyone off for the evening with an emotional push to ‘do something’ – speak up, create something, change the world – which, even though we can’t, actually – is what art is supposed to do.