The Humans featuring Robert Fripp

Venue : St. Anne’s Church, Wyre Piddle
Date : Sunday 21 February 2010
Date of writing this review : 1 March 2010
So there I was in the middle of nowhere on a cold Sunday evening, still not quite sure how I had even got here because my directions had certainly taken me somewhere else, and while standing in the queue outside, with the snow on the ground and the smell from the nearby domestic waste processing plant in the air, the person I was mainly here to see had to squeeze past to get inside the church.  I was here to see the second warm-up show from The Humans (Toyah Wilcox, Chris Wong and Bill Rieflin), who were featuring Robert Fripp on guitar for this tour, the same Robert Fripp who had had to squeeze past me in the queue.  And this was something of an intimate affair, being within a village church, and I got the impression I may have been one of only a few who were not actually friends or family within the audience of about 70 people.
They had set up the band equipment in the crossing between the nave and the chancel, and Robert wisely kept on his coat and scarf as he came into the space behind the arch which backed the crossing and formed a boundary between nave and chancel.  He bowed his head towards the altar for a moment, his back to the audience, and then took his place on a seat within the chancel, so that he is framed by the arch.  As I have been upfront in indicating, the fact that Robert Fripp was playing was a major reason for me being here tonight (and the next night at Leamington Spa), so the fact that he was now opening the evening himself was a special surprise.  There had been ambient chimes playing as everyone was coming in, and now that sound built up and Robert added to it with rounded guitar notes, his sound floating out before people fully realise he has begun.  There is an oriental feel to the ambient sounds, and a warm feel to the sounds he is adding, an almost cello-like feel, with the sound that deep and rich.  He develops some loops then gently picks out a part on top, floating it out, picking individual notes, sustaining them, before the guitar sound takes on a more pointed edge within the soundscape, the harder sound taking prominence.  It is a wonderful sound surging in waves as he uses the full length of the neck of the guitar to produce the sounds, moving from the top down to the bottom, developing the guitar sound against the ambient backdrop, with the guitar now taking on a chime effect of its own, tumbling through, fading down and easing, before gently rolling on.  The chimes build within the sound and then fade as it all moves in waves, the guitar adding treble sounds on top, continuing as the ambient sound dies away, and The Humans come to their positions in the crossing, also dressed in their coats and scarves, and Toyah greets us with “welcome” as Robert’s guitar sounds blend into the electronic rhythm of Demigod (or Demi-God, as it says on the setlist) as it pulses through, and Toyah’s vocals come in.  Knowing the album as I do now, it may have seemed strange to open the set with the closing track from the album, but I have to say it worked very well.  Perhaps something more strange is being faced with a band made up of a vocalist and two bass players – again, I have to say it works very well !  The melody from Toyah’s vocals sounds wonderful, and the style of the music clearly suits her.  The basses pulse in against the thumping rhythm as it pauses into spoken vocals, and then rumbles away with the vocal sounds flowing, the guitar cutting through melodic and sharp.  The vocals come in and flow away, rising, as the guitar cuts through sharp, with a rasping edge, and the basses continue to rumble.  It is an intense sound and the guitar provides some release as the track drives on with a relentless feel.  Then the guitar is scraping through and holding before the bass pulses with the vocals to bring it to a close.  Toyah tells us that tonight is in memory of her father.  They continue with Is It Wrong, although she introduces it as ‘Is it wrong to worship you’, and Chris’ bass thumps in with a melodic twang as he slaps it, providing a rumbling rhythm, and the vocals flow high on top of that, building, jumping, on edge.  Bill’s bass (yes, bass – no drums from the REM drummer in this set) joins in with him playing it with a plectrum and Robert’s guitar cuts across them with a screech, as they build a powerful sound, full of big rhythms, an oriental hint to it, the guitar sound weaving around the vocals, before the track thunders along with guitar bursts coming through as the vocals flow, the bass sounds reminding me of some of that early period Peter Gabriel, and as it drives on the instruments cut out to leave the vocals to end it.  Toyah tells us the history behind the band, how it all came about for a performance in Estonia, and the Estonian Ambassador has travelled up from London this evening to take his place in the audience on the front row.  They continue with Twisted Soul, a thumping rhythm and the melody joins in on top, some rattling percussive sounds and the basses thump against them as the vocals fly high and the guitar pushes through.  The track pauses into an organ sound as the vocals push high again, and as that sound comes to an end the basses rumble in, then some big riffing on the basses as the vocals grow again and the guitar strums through sharp as the vocals jump around, pushing it into a sharp close.  Next up is The Fragment Pool, a new track which was the first one Toyah wrote when she went to Seattle after the death of her father.  The guitar cuts in with the basses and the vocals flow on top, and it is the vocal sound which is really pushing the track, everything else just riffing behind it as the bass sound keeps walking in, before it pauses, and then the vocals scream out.  It hits on from that, with the guitar coming through discordant, flowing with some delay, and the basses keep coming through with that walking feel as the guitar riff bursts out.  It stops into the vocals, then the track pushes out again and it carries on with the vocals pushing higher, taking it into another sharp finish.  Toyah introduces another new track, Sugar Rush, by saying “part of the joy of working with two bass players is that they come up with this song and it’s absolutely mad”, and the basses thump in with a big guitar sound joining them, screeching with an edge, and they push on with very stacatto sounds.  Then Bill nods to Robert and they roll along, flowing before they hit back to the stacatto feel with the vocals on top.  A discordant sound is working in pulses, before sharp, circling guitar flows away again with Bill’s bass, and Chris provides some frantic riffing on his bass.  Then something seems to happen with the vocal loop and they bring it to an end, Toyah saying that they “move into rock venues tomorrow, so we are going to go really loud on that one”.
An electronic rhythm chugging along takes us back to the album and into Quicksilver with melodic bass thumps from Chris, the vocals flowing high and gentle on top.  Melodic notes flow through as both basses rumble, and again it is all happening behind the vocals, providing an excellent backdrop for Toyah’s wonderful voice.  It begins to settle with the bass sound circling, the guitar adding melodic notes, growing, holding, then becoming more frequent as it all pushes along.  The bass tempo picks up, the sound becomes more insistant and the vocals rise higher, leading into one final vocal part before it ends, with Toyah adding, “well stopped there, Bill – I forgot the last line, which I can do in my home village”.  Then she introduces the band : Bill coming from Seattle, “but don’t hold that against him”; Chris having only just flown in from his father’s 80th birthday in a village in China, and Toyah saying that seeing photos from the event was all a little bizarre for her because Chris is one of the most ‘western’ people she knows, and he added that in fact while he speaks little Chinese, his father speaks little English, which is a fascinating insight; and “behind me is Mr. Toyah Wilcox.  He said I could call him Bobby Wilcox, but not Robert Fripp”.  Before they head into Labyrinth she also reveals that Bill made her record it while running on the spot, but she will not be performing it that way this evening.  The sound is swirling, the bass sound rumbling, as it drives along uptempo, fuzzy guitar cutting in as the vocals flow and the track rolls, Chris slapping his bass and Bill picking out his part.  The guitar riffs through again hard, its sound grows and it really takes over, battling with the vocals as the basses rumble underneath, and it continues on, driving to a sharp stop.  Next up is Icarus, a track from the album which may find it has its name changed, because Toyah tells us “Robert woke me this morning and said we are going to rename Icarus ‘Ickypoo'”, and the bass rumbles in from Bill with a rhythm tapping behind him, the guitar chiming through from Robert as Chris strums on an electric guitar, and then Bill is also twinkling on keyboards as well as continuing with his bass part.  There seem to be lots of loops within the sound, and then melodic guitar flowing through from Robert, flowing high as the track taps along uptempo with some more keyboard sounds from Bill.  The vocals flow into an airy sound before the bass rumbles back in and the track rolls on, the guitar flowing through again as well, and after the vocals push on again the guitar echoes out and the track fades to the end.  Toyah asks, “How are you doing, mum ?  You really hate being on the front row, don’t you.”, and then tells us the story behind the next track, Noise In Your Head (or, as she introduces it, does this sound like the noise in your head), how when they were over in Estonia and out for dinner with the President they could see his security detail, the men in black, through the glass ceiling over their heads.  Chris’ bass thumps in and jumps around with a spoken vocal track running behind it before Toyah’s vocals join in and it bounces on hard, pausing as the guitar cuts in and a keyboard sound floods through.  Bill riffs in on bass as Chris circles his part and the vocals break out to drive it on into another pause, with the keyboards flooding in again, and the vocals rising high above them, with the guitar cutting through under it all, before the bass rumbles us off again.  The guitar cuts in harsh, rolling, pushing in a hard circle and taking us into a sudden stop.  They continue with Telekinesis, vocal loops expressing a scared sound, building a sinister atmosphere through which an electronic rhythm pulses, then the vocals coming in, almost spoken, and Chris is on electric guitar as the various parts of the sound push in to the thumping beat, and there is a real edge to it, with the vocals emotional and raw.  Robert’s guitar cuts through sharp, keeping us on edge, then Chris rolls through high and sharp on his guitar before Robert cuts across with grand power chords, a deeper, harder sound, and the two guitars hit against each other as the vocals flow back in.  The track pushes along before the guitar sound bursts through again and the vocal loop from the beginning fades us to the end, and Toyah saying, “sleep well tonight”.
The next new track, Agitation, was also written in Seattle, about a time Bill was driving Toyah and Chris through the city, and they ended up laughing in the back of the car as he became more agitated with the other drivers around him.  A pointed keyboard part pulses through and continues, before Chris circles in a guitar part.  The vocals roll in high and full, with Robert’s guitar rolling under them, and Bill’s bass thumps as the track eases along, a wonderful mixture of sounds, rhythms, textures.  It begins to come together and flows along, still with that initial electronic pulse running under it, with the vocals driving it and all other parts flowing behind them.  And then the vocals become stacatto, the bass thumps with the electronic pulse, Chris circles his part and Robert develops a floating theme, and they produce an intense sound with soft parts to it, and it rolls on to a fading close.  Toyah tells us that when the band presented Robert with Put A Woman On The Moon he said he could not take part in a feminist protest song.  It begins with a massive sound, blasting out, Chris riffing on guitar, Bill riffing on bass, hard and sharp, some electronica rumbling and bouncing under their sound.  Toyah’s vocals come in on top, fervent and powerful.  Robert’s guitar sound flows away fast with the bass and there is a discordant, jarring feel to the song as it drives along, before it holds into the sharp riffing from Chris and Bill again and the vocals come back in.  Then Robert’s guitar riffs through, sharp and definitely discordant this time, and the track drives along again, pushing into a sharp close.  Toyah explains that they would normall go off at this stage and come back on for an encore, but for this evening they are just going to stay where there are.  They continue with the title track from the album, We Are The Humans, and a bass loop rumbles.  Toyah’s vocals flow high on top, over the bass loop and wooden stick percussion sounds, and the track pushes on, repeating, developing, playing around with loops, before Bill adds a keyboard part.  It pauses into the vocals with a big, floating note from the keyboards, then stops.  Then shrieking guitars come in, Chris strumming on his guitar, and the wooden stick sound comes through again.  Then more shrieking guitar as it kicks on, before holding with piercing noises from the guitars and keyboards behind the vocals, now drifting, floating, building, lots of sounds bouncing off each other, producing a spacey feel with the bass rumbling under it, and the keyboards float through in waves.  They are joined by the vocals, high and on top, as they move into This Belongs To You, drifting along as Chris gently strums a part, now a big sound easing on, with a sound almost like a chanted prayer from the vocals, the big sound swirling around the vocals, as the vocals become spoken and the sound gradually fades out into Toyah saying “thank you”.  There is huge, warm applause from the audience and Robert in particular is beaming.
There is still more to come.  They had previously released a single of their cover of the Nancy Sinatra track, These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, and now they continued with that, Robert strumming in…and then stopping.  He begins again, circling the part sharply, Toyah’s vocals flow in and the basses thump in against the jangling, buzzing guitar.  It pushes on following the vocals and Robert chucks out big power chords before it pauses, the vocals carrying on before the guitar comes through again, sharp and blaring, pushing along with a screeching, discordant sound, the vocals easing through the dramatic, chaotic sound, and the vocals come through alone to take us to the end.  They are not finished yet, with Toyah saying, “Robert’s left hand has pressed the hand of the man who wrote this…Hendrix”, and we are treated to a glorious version of Purple Haze, with Robert riffing through as the basses rumble, and the track thumps hard as it surges along with the vocals flowing, some funky bass from Chris before he starts riffing hard. Then the guitar cuts through sharp, holding on the edge of feedback, absolutely holding my attention and focus, adding more cuts, sharp as a razor, before riffing off again, and the basses rumble with that riff as the vocals push through, and it hits a sharp end, bringing to a close a very entertaining evening, and I am so glad I will be getting more of the same the next evening in Leamington Spa.This evening’s show was free of charge, but a donation to the church was requested, and I am pleased to say that the collection plate appeared full to overflowing as I was leaving – so a wonderful evening’s entertainment in a splendid location, and some funds to help that location remain as splendid.  Perfect, really.
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