Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner
As Jamie Lidell’s musical style comes full circle, one thing remains clear: It’s all about the beat. In his beginnings he was a techno master, mixing vocable-fueled beats into dub-like rhythms and melodies. Though he chose Prince as a middle-school idol—an un-cool decision that countered Morissey’s then popularity—it was only until high-school, when he bought a sampler and became the controller of his own musical destinies. Buying it, he says, was one of the best decisions he ever made.
Fast-forward to 2005 when the then-Berlin resident evolved his beatbox-techno style into a one-man soul show, with friends Gonzales and producer Mocky helping fill in the instrumental and inspirational gaps. The resulting Multiply became an underground sensation, tapping into the demand for retrograde soul melodies with an electronic twist.
It’s Lidell’s latest release, Jim, that he was – still—touring in support of that found him back in New York City. The album, in its recorded form, is the manifestation of Lidell’s throwback maturation: Handclaps, hooks, harmonies, and beats that make one long for roller-skates and disco-balls. With producer Mocky—who shares production and writing credits—Lidell was able to shed his electronic identity, forging a new one in the Jamiroquoi-esque blue-eyed soul direction.
After a lengthy PA prelude of disco-era classics, Lidell and his band took the stage and room by storm with “Where D’You Go”. Always the zealous performer, Lidell was at once dancing at all edges of the stage, sharing backup vocal duties with the front row, and helping get his four-piece band even more riled up (including simultaneous double horn playing from saxophonist Andre Vida and an Elvis-clad guitarist). Adding to his bouncy character of a skinny-white Brit singing soul was his ruffled tuxedo, thick frames, and greasy hair—a fashion nod to Neil Hamburger perhaps.
On “Figured Me Out” the band had a beatboxing face-off so intense that they jumped into the crowd leaving the victor, Lidell, to expound the beats in his head—which he would resuscitate later in a solo DJ portion of the set. But first he crooned out “Rope of Sand”, showing surprising flexibility and agility in his soothing voice.
Flexing some live variability, “Another Day” slipped into whisper quiet verses only to vigorously revive itself each chorus. Encore “Multiply” threw another wrench into his traditionally minded laid back sound, shooting the song into a heated double-time.
Though Lidell proved himself musically precarious, he was always entertaining, provoking the audience into going along with him. His solo beatboxing-sampling exhibitions meandered, resulting in a mashed up metal-noise disco sound. But because he was equally content at his console or cowbell, his unbridled funk-energy rivaled that of King Khan and paid tribute to his schoolboy hero Prince.