All of them virtuoso talents, the Change is Gonna Come supergroup were never less than dazzling, technically speaking. The reason for the evening’s hot-then-cold wavering lies in some of the pacing, arrangement and technical choices.
The concert embraced folk, country, soul, jazz, rap, hip-hop and funk, with a smattering of keyboard-led prog thrown in for good measure. Black and white songwriters were honoured, as were the American slave song and migrant worker song traditions. These are songs of hardship, injustice, yearning and suffering; when the arrangements were simple and the message delivered in clear, true tones, then the audience connected and shared in the passionate emotion.
But the sheer eclecticism on show was dislocating; the band didn’t deliver enough rousing tunes back-to-back; and one technical choice was a disaster. Carleen Anderson’s voice was so powerful that it needed no addition or effects, but she chose to use a digital harmoniser liberally. These effects still sound so artificial and unpleasant that, at best, they are distracting and, at worst, they mask and distort the voice to the point that, in this case, the message was lost and the songs’ force and meaning were destroyed. This was unfortunate in a concert all about political struggle and human pathos.
Garcia’s saxophone work and Debelle’s gorgeously fluid rap were unadulterated wonders. Rod Youngs’ on drums was superlative, as was Renell Shaw on five-string bass. To a beautifully simple accompaniment Anderson sung, ‘Before I be a slave I’d rather be buried in my grave’ and when Yeoh replied to Anderson’s rendition of Nina Simone’s ‘Four Women’ with a wild piano solo – so wild that she flung her body against the keys over and over – the crowd erupted, delighted to see the decorum of these controlled professionals shattered for a few moments.
A Change is Gonna Come: Carleen Anderson, Nicky Yeoh, Speech Debelle & Nubya Garcia
Performed: Tues 21 May, 7.30pm at the Brighton Dome