By Russell Warfield
September 12, 2012
Earlier this year, during the should-be triumphant week of the release of his long awaited (and frankly stunning) Cancer 4 Cure LP, El-P sadly had to cancel a string of European shows, owing to the sudden loss of a loved one. Just a few months later, and El-P is back in the UK, honouring the gigs he missed – and, not that I’d want to claim any sort of serious insight into Meline’s state of mind, it really did feel like El-P was riding a cathartic high during his set tonight. Wide eyed and giddy throughout, with a restless sense of physical energy, Meline explodes across the stage, displaying a sincerely genuine sense of thankfulness towards the audience and, more bluntly, seeming that he was having a fucking brilliant time. No drugs, he confirms, a little alcohol, he concedes, but he was clearly riding the most exhilarating wave of ecstatic release, even becoming so intoxicated off his own atmosphere to completely ignore the British smoking ban.
This apparent state of mind had two chief effects on the show – one bad, one good. To the show’s detriment, the razor sharp, well chiselled syllabic fireworks of Cancer 4 Cure’s material (playing, by the way, the new LP in full by way of his main set, then a clutch of old stuff for the encore) was somewhat lost among an unbridled onslaught of excitement, shouting and an overzealous hype man. As the opening passages of ‘Request Denied’ throttle through their noisy and scatty bedlam, the backing band providing a serious muscular flex to the beats, it really feels like we’re gearing up to an absolute showstopper of a live performance. In actuality, El-P explodes into life with an intensity so strong that it overshoots the mark a bit – the hyper-dazzling flow of the studio version being replaced by a muffled bark, delivered with everything he’s got, but lacking the nuance or subtlety of its recorded counterpart.
This set-long criticism, though, is more than outweighed by the contagious overriding joy outlined at the top of this review – the sheer sense of occasion and atmosphere making the slight dent in Meline’s vocal craftsmanship more than forgivable. Without question, with members of his backing band crowd surfing and with a tidy percentage of the audience actually full-on dancing, it’s easy to get caught up in a symbiotic relationship of energy between audience and performers. In hearing the outright relish of El-P, his hype man, and several hundred people all bellowing in unison to pump this shit, like they do in the future, the desire to hear a carbon copy replica of the studio perfectionism completely evaporates. This is El-P in concert, not on record: having an absolutely incredible time, and bringing the same feeling out in his audience as he does so.