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Sampha and Ngaiire Offer Brisbane an Unforgettable Night Of Music

Sampha playing live at the Tivoli in Brisbane
Photo by Chris Searles (@christopher_searles)


The Tivoli, Brisbane

Friday, 27 February 2024

It's Tuesday night in Brisbane and it's one of the biggest weeks of live music in recent memory. It's a weird night of the week for a date night, yet here we are rolling in for an irresistible pairing of incredible soulful contemporary artists, easily the most alluring (arguably?) show in town this week.

Papua New Guinea-born Australian-based KWEEN Ngaiire is first and is, quite simply, breathtaking and has been every time this reviewer has witnessed her step onto stage for the best part of a decade or more. Her unique blend of R&B and future soul is a bit underrated if you ask me and is appealing beyond her powerhouse pipes and across its execution and arrangements. Flanked by two of best - Tully Ryan (drums) and Andrew Bruce (synth/keys) - she slides effortlessly through a short but hell-sweet 25 minute set that lifts from each of her three albums, but dodges anything that may have graced the radio or considered a "hit". It's testament to her wealth of music that a set like this can be constructed to not only support Sampha, but provide music that couldn't be a more perfect opener for the man. On any other lineup, the headliner might just be in a spot of a danger of being outshon.

All photos by Chris Searles (@christopher_searles)

Fittingly, soundtracked by what sounds like ominous dispatches from the cosmos, Sampha and his band emerge and take their places behind various pieces of gear, Sampha himself at the centre of a semi-circle of band members, each as captivating to watch as the next. On-stage, the London-born singer's voice is as finely tuned as it is on record, his distinct tone, phrasing and one-of-a-kind vibrato shining dazzlingly bright.

All photos by Chris Searles (@christopher_searles)

Somehow, it's soulful and soothing, wounded and vulnerable all at once. To begin, the ensemble pull out 'Plastic 100°C' from his 2017 Mercury-winning album, Process. It somehow morphs into a version of SBTRKT's 'Hold On', the refrain "you're giving me the coldest stare" is an early highlight and one of the most accessible hooks tonight. The man is softly spoken, yet his joy within the music is infectious, he becomes the largely affable goof, waving his arms about inhibition-free like it's the 11:59pm, 31st December, 1999. Identifying the setlist, however, is difficult - almost every song is different to the album version in some way and, more often than not, the band improvise impressive extended versions, dropping in interpolations of songs from others.

From here, it's onto songs from his tremendous latest album, Lahal, and a run of its songs are concluded with 'Spirit 2.0' and 'Suspended', both providing two of tonight's most transcendent and, frankly, utterly mind blowing moments. Both are highlights on the Lahal album, but take on a different shape in live form, becoming largely extended jams which eventually crescendo into a breathtaking array of light and climatic sounds. Honestly, this reviewer is so humbled by these performances, it's difficult to articulate into words. 'Without' is played to stage right, the band performing in a something of a drum circle, huge beats and percussion at the forefront, while the gorgeous 'Too Much' and '(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano' see Sampha alone at the mic finding more transcendence through his voice. But more often than not, it's the jittery, clattering, and heartbeat skipping reverberation of percussion that takes precedence. It's electronic music in the uniquest of forms with the soul in Sampha's voice hitting hardest. There's pure beauty amid the impressive dissonance with light, love, spirit and faith exisiting as the forces of nature embraced.

“This energy we exchange is very special,” he says before ending his set, and this is largely how we can describe the set. It's something of a religious awakening which exercises both the instinct and the intellect. The songs will forever exist in these newly witnessed shapes as we spin his albums from now on, tonight's show feels like it's of once-in-a-lifetime quality and won't be forgotten in a hurry.


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