The stage was set up more or less how Bill Evans Trio would have been 50 years ago: grand piano on the left, bass in the middle, drums on the right. There were probably a number of room in the city set up a very similar way last night, but nothing sounded like GoGo Penguin did. That’s a guarantee, because while the band looks like a traditional jazz trio, their compositions have more in common with their fellow brits like Bonobo, Burial, or James Blake.
It’s all equating to some killer success. The band just released Man Made Objects, their Blue Note debut and third album overall, to much acclaim, earning them slots on festivals like Coachella and allowing them to pack mid-sized venues across the country. They’re playing jazz festivals across europe all summer long, and when I inquired about vinyl copies of the new LP with bassist Nick Blacka, he was quick to apologize for selling out earlier on in the tour. It’s a good problem to have.
The band delivered about an hour and a half of tunes last night at Le Poisson Rouge, a room that was packed with energy and anticipation. Some of the crowd had caught them in the same room, for a shorter set as a part of New York City Winter Jazzfest. Many others were catching the band for the first time.
Beginning the set with “All Res,” the lead track and single off Man Made Objects showed that there were some people in the room already familiar with the record. When they jumped into the skittish “Unspeakable Word,” legs began to loosen up in the room, as a little wave of two-stepping washed over the crowd. As the set progressed, the band countered cloaked their epic build-ups and softer ambience with gorgeous melodies. Tracks like “Smarra,” which ends as a monumental jam disintegrates in the listeners ear, quieted the rambunctious NYC audience before ultimately yielding ecstatic screams. GoGo Penguin may begin each song as a soft, simple jazz trio, but they usually go out with a bang, as evident on the closer “Protest,” which revs up the energy into a supersonic speed as the devastating thumps of Blacka’s bass keep you grounded.
That bass mixxed with Rob Turner’s jittery electronica drums, played acoustically, along with the melodies of pianist Chris Illingworth is reason enough for this band to receive the recent recognition. It’s a beautiful sound that is familiar in certaint ways, but totally unique in others. With no other North American dates on the books for this year, it may be a good time to look into a Eurotrip. I hear jazz festivals are fun, yeah?