Roots Manuva: Camden Roundhouse

Saturday night saw a first trip to Camden’s famous Roundhouse to watch one of my favourite artists in action. As the snow fell outside, in sufficient quantity to make the journey home a bit of a mission, Roots raised the temperature inside. I’ve seen Roots three times previously, Leeds in 2001, then twice in London in 2005. Having opted out of the tour for 2008’s Slime and Reason, it’s been seven years since I last saw him live. Aside from wondering how so much time can have passed, cards on the table, this was- without a doubt- the most compelling performance I’ve seen from Mr Manuva; resplendent in a black cape and hat straight from Sherlock Holmes,  he was magnificent.

I’ll get this bit out of the way and then we can move on- as I’d promised to meet a friend over from Ireland, we were late to the gig. And so, rather than being able to soak up the atmosphere of the Roundhouse and settle into the gig, we were thrown straight into it, with Go Champ bouncing off the walls. I started to head forward, but then realised that there were so many tall people in front of me, Jo and I were gonna have trouble seeing much. But there were so many people heading to and from the bar, which we were just next to, we had to move. So we headed towards the right of the stage and found a spot where we could comfortably view the stage. Although we were stood next to four clowns who seemed more interested in photographing their ugly, gurning, faces than paying attention to what was going on onstage.

From the time we arrived at the gig and for several tracks, Roots concentrated exclusively on his new album. Which was kind of gratifying as someone who thinks it’s easily his best work since 2001’s Run Come Save Me. In addition, where before Roots would sprinkle live shows with extended audience banter, he wasn’t fucking about here, song after song and minimal chat, just the occasional look up at the ceiling and the words “Roundhouse”. It felt reflective of an artist with total command over, and confidence in, his new material. Likewise, the amount of people on stage, three or four MCs joining in as and when, felt organic rather than extraneous.

For me, the paranoid Who Goes There was the undoubted highlight of the new material, white and blue lights strafing the stage as Manuva delivered some of the best lines of his career. Another thing: I love about Roots ability to make you laugh, I lost count of the amount of times I caught myself just listening and grinning to myself at his lyrics- he is a true original.

Skid Valley is a song, you may be aware, I was all over when 4everevolution came out. I think its charms have worn off somewhat now, nonetheless it sounded great when rolled out on Saturday night. I loved hearing First Growth, mainly because I was convinced it would open the set and so (having missed that opening) it was a very pleasant surprise; although in turn either we missed, or Roots didn’t play, the clanging Here We Go Again and Revelation. Get The Get didn’t sound as fizzy as I expected it to, but I do think some of the details in the music may have been lost in the Roundhouse’s high ceiling.

The first trip down memory lane, came prefaced with the question “What time is it?” that I remember from both 2005 gigs. And, indeed, it was time to Witness the fitness and the Roundhouse came to life. I loved that Roots hadn’t held it back until it was time to close the set, or for the encore- he’s moved on a pace since 2001. Nonetheless, another set highlight followed with the beautiful Dreamy Days, before Roots nod to the conditions outside and (we’re) Too Cold. The first of two tracks from Slime and Reason, Again And Again was received very warmly. Rightly so.

Despite the fact that, arguably, Roots two best known tracks had been despatched earlier in the set, the encore was fantastic. An uplifting version of Let The Spirit was Jo’s favourite track of the night- and then Roots remembered that he’d forgotten to dance. This was the cue for the final track of the night and a storming version of Watch Me Dance- it’s from the new album- was aired. The band disappeared again, but the lights stayed low. Were they coming back? About 5 minutes later we had our answer as the lights went up. It was just about half past ten and the journey home beckoned.

Two tubes, one lengthy journey on a DLR assailed by signalling problems and then a bus fighting its way through the snow from Lewisham and we got home some time around 1am. But I know Jo and I wouldn’t have missed Saturday night for the world. Well, not all of it anyway! We’re off to see Ghostpoet at Camden Koko next week and I think Saturday’s performance from Roots will prove to be a very tough act to follow.

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