As a longtime fan of James Lavelle and his work as not only the founder of the influential Mo' Wax label as well as producer and mastermind behind the genre-bending UNKLE albums. That first UNKLE album, Psyence Fiction, blew my mind with Lavelle's collaborations on various tracks, including Richard Ashcroft, Mike D, Badly Drawn Boy and of course, Thom Yorke.
After venturing a bit further into his dance roots with the sophomore UNKLE album Never, Never, Land, Lavelle pushed hard back into the rock world with the latest full-length, War Stories. To support the new record, he decided to do something totally new for his UNKLE project: assemble a live band for the tour.
Translating the deep beats and complex structures via live band must have been an interesting experiment in restructuring the songs' arrangements, but it sure worked. The "band" made their live NYC debut last night at Webster Hall, jam-packed with enthusiastic fans that were ready to get their dance on.
The backdrop to the stage was very Radiohead-esque, with columns of lights illuminating the shadows of Lavelle's cast of musicians. Over the ensemble was a large screen, onto which various images and videos were projected that were synced up to each song. They rolled through plenty of favorites, such as "Lonely Soul." Lavelle put an interesting spin on that particular one, singing the vocals himself rather than using a pre-recorded bit of Richard Ashcroft from the original.
Even when a pre-recorded vocal track was used, such as on the current US single "Burn My Shadow," where a digitized face of Ian Astbury was projected over the band, the live instrumentation brought the song to life on stage. Another mind-blowing portion happened towards the end, with some sick visuals that accompanied the UNKLE classic "Rabbit In Your Headlights."
Throughout the duration of the performance, there was never a moment where the audience stopped moving to the music. In fact, it was an absolute treat to see a crowd that totally into a concert, something that you rarely see in NYC. UNKLE fans had waited a long time for a true live show, and they got their money's worth.