Mondomix 8 March 2010
Live review – opening night of Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra UK tourJerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra – Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, 04 March 2010
Let’s get this straight off the bat: this is no stroll down memory lane, no sentimental homecoming. Sure Dammers is a Coventry boy – it helped shaped him (he arrived here at the age of ten) and helped define his original band The Specials - but that was then and this is…some next level shit altogether. That’s not to say there wasn’t a huge sense of occasion; this is after all the first time Dammers has played live here in about three decades – and it’s the first date of the first ever Spatial AKA tour. Back in the days of raucous ska punk anthems like Too Much Too Young, Dammers would have played in a sweaty, standing-room only venue, with a deafening sound system and constant shouting coming from the stalls. Tonight it’s a polite, seated venue with a clean, crisp sound coming from a twenty-piece orchestra that includes two bass players, a vibraphone player, two percussionists and a poet.
‘The whole thing is about unmasking, possession and other shit like that’ says Dammers after playing Theme From The Exorcist – a dark and brooding piece featuring dense layers of bass, frenetic brass flurries and the voice of Dammers himself, filtered through one of his many synthesizers, sounding like a man possessed. This show is not for the faint-hearted. The band, all dressed in robes and masks, create their own otherworldly atmosphere, a kind of energetic force field which makes well-known musicians like Denys Baptiste and Larry Stabbins seem strange and unfamiliar. The musicians each take solo spots; at one point the great Rico comes on stage – performing a revised version of Ghost Town – even more surreal and cinematic than the original. At one point there is complete silence both on stage and in the audience. Dammers’ revised version of Sun Ra’s ballad, I’ll Wait For You, which he dedicates to his deceased father, has just finished…thirty seconds pass before the spellbound audience break the silence with a response. ‘You lot are weird’ says Dammers to the audience after the applause eventually dies down.
Rather than possession, maybe a better way to describe this is like a kind of channeling – Dammers delves into the vaults of spiritually loaded musicians such as Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane and Moondog and delivers an intense and compelling show which doesn’t feel anything like its two hour forty minute duration. What’s amazing is Dammers ability to meld musical genres – you sense drum and bass rhythms, mixed with free jazz and dirty Philadelphia blues alongside hip hop and ska. It has a fluidity and magic about it that only someone free from a sense of roots and creative limitations could produce. No, this was no home coming, and for that reason all the more a triumph.