Review: Eccentric Roisin Murphy delights at Beacon with powerhouse electronica (11/2/24)

(Photo by Casper Serjesen)

Amidst those in the standing area of the packed Beacon, there’s a build of anticipation as we edge closer to a tardy 9pm kick off. The playing of something akin to somnolent electro-jazz over the venues speakers proves to be the calm before a scintillating, dancefloor-friendly storm as Roisin Murphy’s on-stage silhouette finally appears in a series of strobe flashes and bangs. ‘Pure Pleasure Seeker’ – from Murphy’s time as one half of 90s/2000s duo Moloko – is an opener that sees her sartorially engulfed in black fur coat and matching mane-like headgear. The lyrics “Come make me whole, body and soul” dilate on the big screen in concert with the track’s pulsing keyboards.

It’s a terrific start, both musically and visually, and Murphy’s long practiced penchant for costume changes is quickly evidenced as she appears in white jacket, shades and black gloves for the sparse, thumping beats of ‘Dear Miami’. In fact, Murphy manages a variation in stage attire for every single track of the night; she later appears in top hat and black suit, in an afro-like bonnet and shades, a witchdoctor like black cape with a white necklace that bizarrely looks like a dangling, upside-down fetus, and a large, arthouse dress with origami-esque folds.

Murphy’s formidably energetic live sound is realised with five bandmates interchanging on drums, bass, guitars, keyboards/synths and electronic percussion. ‘Simulation’ is a pounding slab of electro-pop euphoria within which the responsive audience raise hands aloft and cheer at the mid-song breakdown. The popping synths of ‘Overpowered’ features Murphy aiming the microphone in the crowd’s direction for a singalong chorus. She then records some echo-heavy vocal loops and the song concludes in a freak out of Murphy’s head-banging and frenetic strobe lights.

While much of Murphy’s material manifests in the nightclub-friendly stimuli of heavy bass, repeating beats and flashing lights, she also has a soulful, melodic-bent that informs some of her standout tunes. ‘Coocool’ is slower and chilled – Motown made electronic – and there are effective touches of synth-replicated brass at its chorus. Meanwhile, the chorus to ‘The Universe’ – which is beautifully embellished by some funky chopped guitar – provides a sweet and irresistible earworm.

There are interpretations of a couple more tunes from the Moloko years. ‘The Time Is Now’, in being stripped of the prominent bass and acoustic guitar of the recorded original, is an electro reimagining and again the microphone is aimed toward the crowd for a chorus singalong. The percussion heavy ‘Sing It Back’ has morphed into an ambient stomper. In this spirit of reinterpretation, the night’s version of disco-queen anthem ‘Murphy’s Law’ gets suffocated by a truncated, percussively overwrought rendition.

While there is much to be enjoyed in the music, and the fact Murphy’s distinctive and powerful jazz-inflected vocals remain in fine working order at 50 years of age, the visual aspect to the show is an effective compliment to the heady sonics on offer. An onstage camera sits directly behind Murphy, and the large screen thus offers an approximate replication of her POV looking out at faces in the crowd. More cameras capture the individual musicians at work and this occasionally draws laughs and smiles as they see themselves projected multiple times in tiny, split-screen slithers above them.

During ‘Can’t Replicate’, Murphy sings directly into the camera. She then dances in front of it, before a bout of shadow boxing and a long-held muscle pose is rapturously celebrated by the crowd. The flashing black and white images these cast upon the screen is striking. She then shows her tongue before almost eating the lens until we’re near able to get a sighting of her tonsils. These moments truly bring home the energy and eccentricity of Murphy as a performer. For the full 90 minutes plus, it’s been near impossible to take one’s eyes off her.

Scott Hammond