Like everything he attaches his name to, the announcement that Theo Parrish was to play a series of live dates this summer was met with huge fanfare. The reverence in which Parrish is held by many certainly had a lot to do with the breakneck speed at which tickets sold for the shows, but there was also an exciting air of enigma pervading the whole thing. With his last foray into live performance taking place some ten years ago, the question of what these gigs would sound and look like was one that had been intriguing Parrish obsessives (yours truly included), ever since first hearing of the shows.
The identity of the band which took the stage at Soundcrash and Red Bull Music academy’s show at The Forum – former Public Enemy guitarist Duminie DePorres, drummer Myele Mananza, bassist Akwasi Mensah, ex Funkadelic/Parliament member Amp Fiddler (a Detroit luminary in his own right) on keys, backing vocalist Ideeyah and Parrish himself also on keys, had been revealed some weeks prior. What was a surprise to the watching throng was the presence of four dancers – two male and two female. Showcasing moves similar to those seen in the recent video to Parrish’s ‘Footwork’ single, they added a sense of spectacle to what would have otherwise been ‘merely’ some very good musicians playing some very good music, and kept energy levels in the crowd high throughout – even during what could be termed as the more ‘exploratory’ sections of the performance. Throw in the perma-grinning Parrish and Amp Fiddler’s extraordinary white fedora and there was enough visually about the show to engage.
Despite never having had a ‘hit’ so to speak of, and with many of his exclusively vinyl releases long since out of stock – the recognition many in the audience afforded to the majority of the gig’s two hour running time was testament to Parrish’s high repute. The accomplished musicians surrounding him served up interpretations of a finely chosen selection of tunes from the Sound Signature back catalog, as well as a few choice cover versions. Vocal led numbers such as ‘Soul Control’ and ‘Chemistry’ were triumphantly belted out by Ideeyah and sections of of the crowd, whilst more obscure instrumental cuts were lent a pleasing amount of added funk and momentum by the impressively tight band. The aforementioned ‘Footwork’ meanwhile came across even more danceable than on record, whilst a new song ‘Ah’ – apparently written with Three Chairs bandmate Marcellus Pitmann, was a smokey journey to the more psychedelic reaches of Parrish’s oeuvre that served as a tantalising preview of the forthcoming ‘American Intelligence’ album.
Transforming the wistful beauty of ‘Solitary Flight’ into a frenetic, pulsing jam exemplified the strength of the live show, which had provoked dancing from the balcony down by its conclusion – no mean feat on a Monday night. Parrish, the creator of the majority of the songs performed and the face on all the posters, was obviously the main pull – but the show succeeded through the collective strength of everyone on stage. Roping in his colleagues for a much deserved group bow at the end, you got the sense that the standing ovation they enjoyed was one of the first of many this summer.
You can catch Theo DJ’ing at the Red Bull Music Academy tent at Lovebox tomorrow (Friday 18th July).
Photography: Conor McTernan
Words: Christian Murphy