GoGo Penguin Close Out Tour at Music Hall of Williambsurg
May 15, 2023
GoGo Penguin – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 13, 2023
Right before the final number of their set on Saturday night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, GoGo Penguin bassist Nick Blacka introduced the rest of the English trio: Chris Illingworth on piano and Jon Scott on drums. The reaction from the full house for each member was loud, sustained and heartfelt, befitting perhaps a boy-band quartet from Liverpool and not a jazz trio from Manchester. There was little doubt from anyone in the room that such a response was deserved after nearly 80 minutes of genre-defying instrumental music that overlapped with cerebral composition, awe-inspiring musicianship and Saturday-night-worthy danceability.
The final show of their North American tour leaned heavily on selections from their just-released album, Everything Is Going to Be OK, opening with “An Unbroken Thread of Awareness,” their acoustic instruments bent through effects and skill to take on an electronica energy. On songs like “We May Not Stay,” repeated figures from each player took on their own life, evolving and interacting with the others, creating groove through repetition and intellectual exercises in their deviations therefrom. Older tracks like “Bardo” filled out the set with more adventurous compositions from the trio’s earlier days: The piano becoming a sort of futuristic clavichord, Blacka’s bowed bass building tension, a dark bridge leading to athletic drum builds from Scott before one of dozens of dramatic on-a-dime stops that never failed to draw a reaction from the audience.
Blacka switched to electric bass for “Friday Film Special,” a dreamy funk tune with long comets of keyboard melody from Illingworth. “Break” was a mid-set highlight, the pianist taking a build-from-silence solo that fed into an impressive Blacka storyteller bass solo drawing unrestrained yelps of “Wow!” from the crowd. “Ascent” featured perhaps the night’s most impressive crescendo, Blacka’s furious bass bowing sounding almost Hendrixian. The ensuing last third of the set had the trio and audience in a mind meld, patient playing and interplay on the stage matched the attentive, enthusiastic listening in the rest of Music Hall, the reverie finally breaking those aforementioned band intros, the response of the crowd serving as both an awakening from a trance as well as a show of admiration and appreciation. The encore first went almost full-electronic, Blacka using synth bass for extreme low-end while Scott went machinelike with his beats, the piano doing little-star twinkling before another wait-is-this-jazz? combustion. The last song of the night felt more arena rock than piano trio, a heavy bass riff, move-your-body drumming and bang-away piano all leading into one final explosion of gratitude from the packed house. —A. Stein | @Neddyo