LAW is already on stage as I enter the arts centre, half her face bathed in white light, half in shadow as she stands legs apart, her upper body at a slight angle for the entirety of her set. Her eyes stare into the crowd, wide and hypnotic as she works her way through her ‘Haters and Gangsters’ EP. Her music is from the same vein as tonight’s main act, her instrumentals cut in and out, toying with hip hop and R&B sensibilities. Yet where Young Fathers’ work borders on avant-garde, LAW’s is more celebratory, incorporating samples seemingly from children’s toys on ‘Number One’.
LAW’s stage presence is undeniably intriguing, if a little unsettling, as her set goes on the arts centre begins to feel like some kind of David Lynch style carnival. Her voice, like her music, is both bizarre and brilliant, a little restrained in places on record, she has real power behind her vocals on stage. The highlight of her set comes in the form of EP closer ‘OG’ as she adopts yet another off kilter pose, her brassy voice echoing through the arches of the arts centre, her odd, experimental R&B the perfect taster for Young Fathers’ dark, psychedelic rap.
As Young Fathers’ step in to the spotlight there is no greeting, no plug for their recently released album, hell, they barely look at the crowd for the entire set, yet from the off they have the audience captivated. Towering over the crowd Alloysious, Kayus and ‘G’ dominate the stage with their unique blend of pure fury and joyous dancing, staring constantly towards the back of the venue, as if taking direction from some unseen entity. Their logo, a figure wrapped in Arabian style scarves, hangs above their drummer, staking their claim to tonight’s venue. Young Fathers’ retain all the mystery of their records live and, despite the fact none of them speak a word to the crowd all night, there is a strange connection between them and the crowd from the minute they step on stage. Their dark brand of experimental hip-hop perfectly suited to the series of Pony Up! shows that run on Saturday’s at the Arts Centre and to the venue itself, the arches of this former church adding another layer to what is already a near-spiritual show.
Young Fathers are completed live by a backing drummer and an analogue synthesiser, which all three members take turns with, distorting and warping their instrumentals. The night gets underway with a fantastically chaotic rendition of ‘Queen is Dead’, setting the mood perfectly for the rest of their set. Kayus and Alloysious stand onstage edge soulfully crooning before ‘G’ brings in the roaring hook. Barely a second passes after the audience’s applause dies down before the tribal pounding of drums fills the room, to the delight of those in the know as breakout single ‘Deadline’ thunders into life.
A handful of songs later and ‘Rumbling’ sees the front of the crowd rivalling our hosts for energy, feet stomping as Young Fathers bound around the stage with strangely intimidating grace, twisting and turning as they rap. Alloysious is undeniably the star when it comes to throwing shapes, working his way across the stage with moves like Michael Jackson possessed during an extended intro to ‘Mmmh Mmmh’. No sooner has Alloysious got the mic back in hand when support act for the tour and friend of the band LAW hops out of the crowd to accompany the boys on their next track. With ‘War’ comes Young Fathers’ moment to show tonight’s crowd the extent of their talent and the power of their voices, Kayus and ‘G’s call and response accapella is staggering in person and more than one crowd member has a crack at ‘G’s howl of ‘Forgive them LoooOOooord’.
‘I’ve Heard’ provides a few well needed minutes of heart-wrenching serenity while Lead single and personal favourite ‘Low’ has the arts centre echoing Kayus’ pleas of ‘take my humanity’ and things are only getting louder. The delicate arts centre speakers pounded by the synth bass and crashing drums that function as Young Fathers backing for the night.
Bursting straight into ‘Get Up’ the crowd and the band reach fever pitch, leaving no audience member stationary as bodies twitch and grove, totally enthralled in the majesty of Young Fathers’ live show, clapping and stamping their feet along to the OutKast-esque drum loop. Young Fathers’ live shows are far more than the album plugging tours that so much of live music, especially hip-hop, has become, they’re cultivated and crafted, almost theatrical performances that complement their experimentalism on record perfectly. Walking off stage as wordlessly as they came on, cries of ‘one more song’ ring out the second our boys are out of sight. However, true to form, they leave us wild for more.