The adrenaline of denizen..
I’ve been looking forward to Funke and the Two Tone Baby’s new album – Denizen – ever since he’s talked about creating it. There’s a few familar songs there from the last year or so of gigs which have evolved over time, and some new ones – and unusually we had the opportunity to hear them all live before getting home to eagerly listen to the recorded version. Playing the last date of his tour at Bodega in Nottingham last Sunday we all crammed in to see what the fuss was about.
First up though was support act She, Robot – also known as Suzy Condrad – she took to the stage in a sparkly top behind a console of gubbins much like Funke does, and frankly she had me won over from the off. To start a gig just up the road from where Xylophone Man used to busk (although he actually played a glockenspeil) with the said same instrument, looping it into the mic to open the set with Whose Army, was a sure fire way to win me over.
She effortlessly builds layers of sound and vocals to build an ethereal soundscape – really clever stuff, and really engaging. Seven Bells was up next, then a Ukulele makes an appearance for Walk of Shame. A sublime cover of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control was up next, one of my favourite songs which always means a cover needs to tread carefully – no fear on that score, it was a compelling interpretation. Breakdown was next, then Fragments and finally forthcoming release Brains.
Awesome and all-too-short set and brilliantly complimentary to the main act too. I availed myself of the two albums she had for sale straight after, stashing them with the Funke album I’d already purloined from the merch stall on arriving at the venue. All three discs have been on my playlist ever since – I love them all, as her last album came out in 2015 I’m hoping there’s another in the pipeline. Greedy or what? But in the meantime you can sign up to her newsletter and be rewarded with a free download of Brains when it’s released (there’s loads of good stuff to listen to on there too).
Next up was Funke and the Two Tone Baby, who had some surprises in store. He’d let slip late last year that he was going to beef up his live tour with some other musicians but didn’t reveal any more than that (to me at least), so I was surprised when his band comprised of a drummer and a dude with a trumpet, but I am nothing if not open-minded! They were David Midgen and Graham Mann from David Midgen & The Twisted Roots – and gosh darn it, did this experiment work, or did it work?
Funke’s a difficult sound to describe at the best of times, but the best I could come up with was if somebody stuck him and New Groove Foundation in a blender, you end up with a funky, groovy brass-laden smoothie of amazingness. When they kicked in with Dance Until You Drop and wow, it really did work – you’d think that a man with beatboxing skills and many boxes of tricks wouldn’t need more traditional assistance but when the drums and trumpet kick in, wow it takes it to another level.
The more familiar Bella’s Kiss was up next, again beefed up with extra percussion and brass, then the über catchy guitar riff for Few More Hours had the feat tapping along nicely leading into the filthy (or rate dotty in Nottinghamese) Reshape – a ponderous bassy synth is joined with slow percussion and sleazy guitar, even the trumpet had an added sleaze thanks to an expertly manipulated plunger mute (I think that’s what it was, at least!) – you could kinda imagine it being the soundtrack to a raunchy Moulin Rouge act.
David and Graham left to give us some Funke solo goodness, which began with the insightful strains of The World Will Be a Wasteland, an acoustic lament to the state of the world – but with a twist of humour in there for good measure. Fortuna is next and also slow paced and acoustically driven with a few beats thrown in and some harmonica at the end. House picks up the pace with beatboxing into some livelier guitar and louder vocals and later some booming bass synth, if you listen to the lyrics it starts with optimism and drive and ends in near disaster – someone following the formula laid down by the formula of ‘normal’.
Next up was Döppelganger, a gentle start on the vocals with some guitar strums sees a dancey bass line join before full on drum-and-bass type breakbeats via beatboxing kicks this into a full-on dance anthem, intricate guitar picked melodies over it mean I reckon a DJ could easily drop this in a club environment and the crowd wouldn’t miss a beat. This is clever stuff indeed, it had me fondly reminiscing of times when dance music would loom larger in my everyday life!
David and Graham returned to the stage for the finalé, probably the three most familiar tracks from the new album as they’ve made fairly frequent appearances in recent shows – so it was good to hear them with the full on percussion and brass treatment, The Signal Is Cut was up first – probably most familiar as it’s on his Live / Not Live album – but beefed up with the extra musicians. I love the fiddly guitar solo in this – this time it was also played on the trumpet too – it’s hard to describe how awesome it sounds. So you’ll just have to accept it!
Work all Week was next on the list – one we can all probably relate to, a relatively sedate guitar-strummed start then an irresistible singalong refrain (which again was trumpet-assisted!), it’s one hell of an earworm – given how much airtime it’s had on my assorted commutes I often find myself humming it even when I’m not listening to music. Then on to Genghis Khan – one he used to trip up over in early outings, not any longer – guitar strums and beats gig in with almost rapped lyrics seemingly intent on contradicting received wisdom, I don’t have a clue what the message is, it’s a banging tune though and gets the room moving. There was even almost a bit of a mosh pit going on!
And then it was all over – the stage was cleared to rapturous applause, and of course – cries for an encore, which I certainly hoped was coming since I’d clocked a certain MBE person arrive with his customary rucksack. Of course there’d be an encore, and it was a rapturously raucous full-band rendition of anthemic Not Enough Bonobo – complete with Andy dressed in his gorilla suit dancing at the front as you kinda come to expect these days! A splendid finish to an amazing evening.
As for the album – well, we heard all of it (albeit not in order) over the course of the evening and the recorded versions are just sublime – there’s no drumkit and brass on here (although there are a few guest appearances snuck in there), but it sounds just so fresh, unmistakably Funke, but with new interesting directions and turns and development. I really do think you should get it if you haven’t – although greedy me does hope he considers a Live / Not Live version including the drumkit and trumpet (or an actual live recording of a gig). I hope he tours like this again!
Denizen is available for pre-order now and will be released on 4th May (Star Wars Day!).