Live at Shepherds Bush Empire
Image from Sam Sparro Website – Proud Galleries
Sparro’s crowd come to party..and party they did. But not before a curious pair of opening acts doubtless selected for their potential appeal to the dance fraternity.
A boisterous lady singer called herself M.P.H.O. I believe leapt onto the stage as first act, trucking her red skirt all over the performance area and backed by a/ an excellent and propulsive bassist who acquitted himself well b/ a cool in-control drummer of the James Brown / Pretty Purdie persuasion and c/ a computer. However spirited the singing and attack, this ain’t live music. It’s a halfway house that looks somewhat half-hearted. The audience seemed to take to her and she must have been pleased with their response. But what a difference even a live keyboard player would have made.
Worse was to follow in the shape of Sneaky Sound System – a serious-faced DJ type of the Saturday Night Eurobeat leaning (he even cued up ‘Sweet Dreams’ !) plus a forceful soul singer whose enthusiasm matched her pipes but also a besuited slacker with a Bugsy Malone hat and an oafish outsize pale bow tie. Fancying himself as an MC and sometime singer any quality or appeal this ensemble might have mustered was dismissed by his prancing, exhortations and posing. Oh for a high-powered rifle….
Now Sam Sparro has his influences – some obvious and some not – but what he has in spades in style and a great voice and the sort of drive only a committed muso can muster.
A near-perfect sound balance showed his terrific band for what they are. A group pitched somewhere between oddball Beck’s travelling companions and heyday Revolution, this group didn’t put a foot wrong all night. How confident must Sam be to have three female lead singers aboard (and all named and featured) as part of his perfomance band ? A flailing drummer Laura Fares flanked by two keyboard players made up the back line, whilst downfront bassist/synth chap Stevo and a fiery Telecaster player stoked up the funk.
Bursting into life after an intro track from Chic, the group hit high after high, only slowing the sound down into a darkblue twilight for the tease intro to ‘Black and Gold’. The pacing impressed me – anyone else would have finished the show with second hit single ’21st Century Life’ and keep the Big Hit for an encore, but not Sparro. He let the audience sing a few lines of ‘Black’ before upping the pace mid-song when this favourite was played. Elsewhere a smidgeon of Cameo hardened the beat, guitar flurries to the fore.
If you hear the bloke’s records, he has the voice to make intimate jazzy numbers work a strange magic but perhaps wisely here he let the party material dominate, even playing an Eighties-style Herbie Hancock portable synth here and there. There is a touch of Stevie Wonder in Sparro’s gospel-fuelled singing but he is equally at ease in the higher register nudging the late Curtis Mayfield. How tempted he must be to include Sylvester’s ‘Mighty Real’ but it would be hard to better the cathartic original, surely one of dance’s greatest recorded moments. What Sam did essay was a snatch of the Prince/Appolonia 6 song ‘Sex Shooter’ suggesting that this man knows his dance track history pretty well. Highlights in this show embraced ‘Too Many Questions’, ‘Sick’ and ‘Pocket’ and the awesome ‘Sally. ‘Cut Me Loose’ was another winner
Not since catching Terri Walker’s live band have I heard three such affecting female singers – I believe they were Vula Malinga, Sharlene Hector and Ladonna Harley if his background notes are correct. Whilst Sparro did not camp it up to any extent, his clothes certainly did – they would have shamed Jimmy Savile in 1973 or any Eurovision act since. But horrifying attire does not take away from Sam’s voice, stage presence and utter joy in the quality of his musicians, all of whom were namechecked on the lengthy wrapup being Crystal Water’s ‘Gypsy Woman’ supercharged to an ecstatic finale.
A real band with a great lead singer, shaking the roof
Pete Sargeant www.fairhearing.co.uk