This wasn’t really a gig so much as it was a coming out party. Sampha’s sweet sixteen. A debutant ball to which he announced himself to the world as a solo artist.
Sampha first garnered attention when he essentially took over SBTRKT’s debut album in 2011 and has since gone on to work with the biggest industry names; think Kanye, Drake, Frank Ocean and Beyoncé in what is basically the Mount Rushmore of back catalogues.
But the training wheels have come off and now he’s standing there, alone on a stage in Birmingham with a piano and a moustache that a Portuguese central midfielder would be proud to have. Shrouded in a pea soup fog and backed by soft lighting that would be best described as Nostromo blue; the sparse background is barely noticeable because it’s Sampha’s voice that is the main attraction. A warbling, lilting, soul infused cry that is a mix of Donny Hathaway, James Blake and a bird of paradise that rises out of the mist and hits you right between the ribs like a prison shiv. This swirling intoxicating scene of stunted lights, billowing fog and ethereal musings must have been what Marshall Applewhite imagined getting onto that Heaven’s Gate spaceship would’ve been like.
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Gradually it feels like the show begins to expand little by little, Sampha is drip feeding you his goodness as if he’s trying to ween you off Methadone and on to his woozy homemade products. The light blue turns to a soft purple that would make Rick James happy, berating drums crackle like solar flare interference and refracted rainbows begin to bounce off the eyes and cheeks of the lucky punters in the crowd. It’s heady and good like thick soup.
The mellow beats slowly rise and fall, the reverb bounces off the walls like a rubber ball and there’s just enough cowbell thrown in to keep all the Blue Oyster Cult fans happy. Everything crescendos into this fuzzy, choral smart bomb that is ‘Blood on Me’; a breathy, melancholic track with a crunchy beat and a hook that floats around inside your head for the next couple of hours. Sampha follows this energetic track with the gut punch that is ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano’, and playing these two tracks back to back is essentially the musical equivalent of pulling the plug on the life support machine after a gym session. It’s a song the just totally and completely wipes you out with it’s gentle, twinkling piano strands and a voice floats across the musical scale with ease and conjures flashbacks to previously wasted relationships.
He let the last note hang in the ether before heading off stage like the cat who got the cream. A full drum kit was brought on stage for the first time that night, and the digestif for the evening was a shredding, percussive heavy track of tribal proportions. The beating and hammering of bass and snare drums felt like a pent-up energy that had been building inside Sampha all night long was finally being released in a great windmill of bones.
After this tour is completed, Sampha will stand alone. He will have shed the collaboration artist title and producer line notes mentions like an old snake skin. This is very much a case of addition by SBTRKTion.