By Paul Ballard
Artist: Flying Lotus
Date / Venue: Wednesday January 28th, The Powerstation, Auckland
'Magnetic' is not a word I get to use very often in a review, nor is 'intoxicating'. Fortunately for me, and for those who had also stepped out on this balmy summer evening, tonight's Laneways Sideshow was very much both of those things - and a whole lot more.
I was stoked when I heard that experimental producer Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, was bringing his new show to our shores. Even before seeing his rampant 45-minute crescendo to Monday's Laneways Festival, I knew that we were in for quite the ride. I was even happier when I found out it would be at The Powerstation. No better place for a live evening of what the The Guardian has described as "a mind-warping 3D treat for all the senses".
I arrived early, just in time to hear warmup DJ JPS already giving the bassbins their first workout of the evening with some suitably dubby offerings. His basslines filled the room like warm treacle as he kept the milling crowd nodding under oriental-inspired percussion. The beats then broke away in favour of a single bass tone, which sat and pulsed hypnotically. I was reminded of the final mothership scene from Close Encounters, before it neatly ramped back up for a more-dub-than-step payoff.
Up next Tom McGuinness took a very different path, kicking straight into some loping trip hop before elegantly shifting things sideways to usher in aspects of footwork and jungle. It was already three-deep at the bar as he hit his stride and it was clear that he was seizing this opportunity with both turntables, weaving elements of acid-electro, trap and hiphop. The room was prepped; he had pitched it perfectly.
The huge screen across the stage twitched into action as Flying Lotus (or Fly-Lo to his fans) stepped onto the stage, already wearing his much talked about mask. The glowing eyes along with suit and tie, gave him the appearance of a freakish 'man-fly'.
"We're not at Laneway anymore", he proclaimed, before dropping us into a deep melodic abyss of images and sound that we would spend the next 90 minutes traversing. With his visuals team working just as industriously, the semi-translucent front screen and back wall fired an array of moving images simultaneously. This gave an incredible sense of depth and motion as each track built its own spiritual landscape of colour and detail. At its 'core' between the two screens was Fly-Lo in silhouette, lit only by his bug-like eyes. He swooned between layers of textural bassline and twisting vocals, which appeared cocooned by the swirling array of tentacles and Giger-esque structures around him.
He worked methodically and gracefully through the tracks off his new album You're Dead as well as earlier material, which pleased the shuffling crowd. Never Catch Me featuring the unmistakable vocals of Kendrick Lamar and Getting There from 2012's When The Quiet Comes were both absolute standouts. There was also an opportunity to sway under dim lights as he removed his mask and raised a microphone for the hauntingCoronus, The Terminator.
This was far from a sideshow - it was beautifully orchestrated. Unlike his shortened Laneways set, which teased these beautiful delights just out of reach, this was a fuller affair. It was set at a very different pace, allowing each chapter to breathe and crawl under his command. It was an awe-inspiring spectacle where melodic paths collided and separated, allowing the crowd to simply stand and take it all in, or let go of the safety rail and move freely within this extra-sensory backdrop.
Towards the end of the set, we were also treated to tracks from his first rap mixtape Duality, as he stepped out from behind the screen to perform under his hiphop guise of Captain Murphy. Not really my cup of tea, but it worked very well as part of the overall show and was great to see him as comfortable on a mic as behind the mixing desk. He signed vinyl (handed to him by one lucky fan), high five'd and happily shared a bottle of something suitably marauding. It was great to see.
After seeing both shows, my preference is leaning more towards his Laneways set. There was something about the shorter timeframe that really gave it some instinctive energy that was quite electrifying. This full show, although also beautifully crafted, tended to lose pace in places and didn't quite have that same sense of the erratic.
But these are merely personal observations, as I cannot take anything away from what was a spectacular night, and one which be remembered for a long time to come.
The bar has now been set incredibly high and tonight's performance is proof that this talented producer has many more ideas yet to be revealed. I greatly look forward to continuing the journey with him.