I think of myself as someone who uses the word “genius” sparingly. Of course, it’s almost pointless to parse it out, since in a media environment saturated by the tropes of advertising, every pan-flash hack in the world is “the next big thing,” brilliant, utterly unique, and so on. We may as well pound out our opinions with rocks for all the meaning superlative adjectives retain. But for what it’s worth, Jamie Lidell is balls out brilliant, a mad hatter collision of soulful creativity, the kind of person so frenetically pregnant with ideas that you expect him to explode onstage or, at the very least, get forcibly taken back to his home planet for blowing his cover here on earth.
With all the initial technological entanglements, his show had the potential to tank. Though Lidell’s latest album takes a fairly straightforward approach to classic soul (Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder) while subtly threading in electronic flourishes, the beginning of his set completely inverted that emphasis. He spastically sliced his own compositions, deftly looping his voice live, layering beatboxing and beats in densely fractured and terraced tangents. His speed, agility, and Rice Krispies attention span—snapping, crackling, popping—made him look like a feverish Hindu God, with a symphony’s worth of limbs. Sporting a pimp’s silk housecoat, this spidery, pasty, and wan little white man from Britain was a mesmerizing force of art, improvisationally creating and playing with his songs in Evel Knievel feats of showmanship.
8 Oct 2005: The Parish Austin, TX
It wasn’t long before the trouble started. Every few seconds, a crackle would lash out of his speakers, breaking his concentration and sending a fingernail-on-chalkboard shudder through the crowd. The soundman seemed vaguely indifferent, looking like he probably set the levels for Dave Matthews and was hoping to phone the rest of the evening in from the bottom of one of the Parish’s half-assed plastic pints. Then, Lidell’s computer crashed. After several aborted beginnings filled with palpable frustration, he abandoned his equipment and paced the stage for a few extended, contemplative minutes.
I can think of any number of artists who would have simply caved, packed up their expensive toys, and written off the performance, with all the blame successfully deflected on a correspondence course soundman and equipment betrayal. But Lidell rallied, opting for the gorgeous nudity of his voice, belting out his songs unadorned, performing his set solely on the force of the thigh-quivering honey in his pipes.
At one point, he asked for a beatboxer to accompany him on stage and snagged some massively talented local teen. During other songs he had the audience clap or repeat phrases. His spontaneity worked most beautifully on “Multiply” where the entire audience chimed in like we were all riding the tour bus, singing “Tiny Dancer” in Almost Famous.
For his courage alone, he garnered the gushing admiration of the crowd, as evidenced by the meatheads I was pissing next to after the show. They agreed he was a badass as they punched each other to defuse any homoerotic bonding that might occur as a result of running parallel streams.
That the appreciation for artistic triumph could trickle down into the lower jock strata said much about how much power Lidell packed into his set. Lidell’s effortless erasure of the opposition we have in our heads between organic soul music and allegedly alienating technology is testament to his credentials as a feral visionary. He was able to roll with the punches of circumstance and commit himself to the show with his entire backdrop bombed to bits, sealing his reputation in my mind as one of the greatest live-wire artists I’ve ever seen.
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