Review: Bonobo’s blistering show to open Bristol Sounds

4.5-stars21st June 2017


After several sweltering days of British Sunshine, this year’s Bristol Sounds – the rebranded form of its erstwhile incarnation as Bristol Summer Series – kicked off just a matter of hours after the met office confirmed that the UK had been basking in its hottest June day in 41 years. Therefore, with the evening closing in and the humid edges removed, it’s the perfect evening for an outdoor show amidst the Lloyds Ampitheatre and adjoining harbour side. We have the perfect conditions and with his cool, dynamic and multi-layered electronica, Bonobo – stage name of Brighton born musician, producer and DJ Simon Green –  provides the perfect soundtrack.

Backed with musicians on drums, keyboard/synth and guitar along with a three way unit of brass/woodwind, Green opens up with ‘Migration’, the title track from his sixth and most recent studio album. As is a case with the early moments in tonight’s set, its slightly downtempo groove provides an alluring sense of anticipation for the sonic fireworks to follow. In similar vein, ‘Break Apart’ – the first of the evening’s tracks to feature the smooth and serene tones of guest vocalist Szjerdene – floats elegantly by amidst a swell of picked guitar and triumvirate melodies of clarinet, trumpet and trombone.

What makes Bonobo stand out as an electronic artist is his sturdy sense of musicality and his being a fine architect of reproducing his records with live instrumentation. As has become the norm for live performance, Green stands centre stage, mostly playing bass guitar but also manipulating his sampler/mixing board and adding electronic percussion; his contributions expertly interact with those of his backing band and the tracks soar on surging waves of synthesiser and triple brass.

Green also seems to have a healthy grasp on the momentum shifts from his choice of set list; In one moment , the up-tempo ‘Kiara’ – from 2010’s Black Sands – is the first instance of the audience really starting to sway, while ‘Surface’ – sailing along seemingly instep with the gliding ocean and mountain shots of the excellent background visuals – is an intake of breath before the party truly begins in the show’s second half.

Further displaying Green’s musical dexterity,’Bambro Koyo Ganda’ is a clap-along African folk chant before emphatically kicking in with its huge bassline and evolving into a euphoric interplay of synthesiser. This is followed by ‘Cirrus’ which is greeted rapturously by the audience and dynamically strides along with its drum and bass groove and chiming keyboard riffs. Later, ‘Kong’ is the novel showcase of some impressive flute amongst the heavy layers of bass and synth while ‘Kerala’ features a solo spot for drummer Jack Baker.

Expertly working the audience up into an increasingly mobile mass of bodily motion, the night culminates in a hugely demanded encore of two songs; ‘Transits’ is the last instance of Szjerdine’s caressing vocals before she blows a kiss and departs from the stage and ‘Know You’ marks the end of a terrific set amidst a rapid bout of strobe lighting and the sight of dozens of young ladies hoisted high upon companion’s shoulders.

Many of tonight’s audience will no doubt have been shortly heading to Glastonbury Festival while there are sure to be many who have missed out on tickets. For the latter, the fact that Bonobo – who won’t be heading to Worthy Farm – has offered up such an enjoyable Bristol show, will offer up a healthy consolation. For the former, this evening’s performance will serve as a fantastic curtain raiser for the festivities to come.

Scott Hammond