|Bernhoft - London, The Regal Room - 8th September 2010|
|Written by Russ P|
|Tuesday, 14 September 2010 05:00|
I'm a misery when it comes to gigs. Take your pick from a list of a hundred reasons: sound's bad, too loud, backache, crappy support bands, waiting around, boredom, guitar solos, drum solos, tall person standing in front of you, stinky sweaty person standing in front of you, boisterous crowd conspiring to knock you over, people mistaking you for a path and pushing past you, pushing past you, pushing past you...it's bad enough when you've only travelled a few miles but how come I'm multiplying my grief by travelling up to London to play the high stakes 'gig game'? The last time I was up here I saw Cheap Trick at the Albert Hall. Great band not so great sound at that venue. That was seven years ago. You can see that I was in no great hurry to return.
But, despite myself, I found myself magnetically drawn to the big city - to Hammersmith - to The Distillers - and to a small and intimate room on the second floor called The Regal Room. Drawn by the immense talent that is Jarle Bernhoft or Bernhoft as he is simply known these days. The ex-Span frontman has made a rare appearance in the UK and I'm making an equally rare appearance of my own. I'm not sure what to expect. I'm not sure if it's going to be worth it but I'm here.
I arrive early and keen. Before the doors are open. Support act Gemma Mewse hasn't even finished her soundcheck. When myself and, you've guessed it, another equally eager Span fan are finally let in I get to see how intimate The Regal Room really is. There are tables available for those that booked them and they lead right up to the edge of the small stage in the corner. For those of us without a table there's plenty of room (relatively speaking) around the bar.
I'm not here to review the support bands but Gemma Mewse and Scott McKeon put out very good performances. Scott is on tour with Glenn Hughes later in the year so will likely feature in these Über Röck pages in the near future. So all is well. I haven't been bored. The sound is great. True there is a hulking behemoth obscuring my view but he's walking around a lot and hasn't put down roots.
And so to the moment of truth, "cometh the hour, cometh the man". Bernhoft is introduced: "Some say he is the King of Looping, I say he is the God of Looping" and with that a seated and remodelled Bernhoft with quiffed mohican beats on the back of an acoustic guitar, loops the beat, discards the guitar, picks up another and starts with the funky riff and unmistakable "Wow, wow, wow" vocals of 'Streetlights' from his debut album 'Ceramik City Chronicles'. And it really is "wow, wOW, WOW!" for me too. The sheer quality of this man's voice is astounding. The effect on me is immediate. It's a whole different class. He raises the bar. He makes very good acts suddenly seem average. It's almost impalpable. He just has that ineffable something that is heard and felt. Bernhoft rearranges the song, breaks it down in the middle and layers some more vocal harmonies into the loop before hunching over his guitar and grooving it into the ground.
Bernhoft sticks his neck out with the next number as he introduces a new song called 'C'mon Talk' which, he warns us, may or may not go smoothly. He sings a cappella into the mic a rhythmic and breath shortening vocal phrase that contains both words and sounds. With that in the can he moves on to a vocalised bass and snare drum followed by a snappy guitar phrase and, miraculously, a fully fledged bass line.
Well, I've had my doubts about this 'King Of Looping' title that people are tagging Bernhoft with. To me he's a performer just doing what he can to put his music across in the best light possible whether that be with a band or solo. The 'Looping' tag is something of a distraction or even gimmick to my mind and Bernhoft is no gimmick believe me. But with that said I can see why - Bernhoft is brilliant at it and has worked out a great way to use it in a live setting. He really is a one man band. Impressive to behold. I think that the 'One Man Band' and 'King Of Looping' tags will abide. But as Oscar Wilde once said: "There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." Thanks for that Oscar - well said.
Next up Bernhoft turns his attention to his tiny keyboard and spins off the rolling chords to 'On Time' with a simplicity which belies their rhythmic complexity. Atop that comes the conga beat from the back of a guitar and the wonderfully laid back vocals that weave in and out of this funky tapestry. Bernhoft jars us near the end of the song with some chordal dischord that leads into a flurry of arms as he whirls off some high speed flamenco rhythms coupled with some phased solo guitar phrases.
Coincidentally as Bernhoft starts his "slow sad song" 'Sunday' there's an embarrassingly personal conversation going on at the bar between two ladies who, excuse my naïve country ways, seem to be behaving like man and wife. Completely oblivious to the fact that the whole room can hear them someone has the good sense to shush them the fuck up so that we can listen to Bernhoft's more palatable take on the personal set to music. Jarle keeps this one suitably simple with a soft beat as the only recurring element tethered together with the impossible combo of simultaneous live rhythm guitar and bass guitar - did I just say simple? Bernhoft puts his everything into this song - his voice gaining grit as he emotes the chorus like the classic soul singers of yore.
Bernhoft delves again into his bag of new songs for the next two numbers. Although this first, 'Ever Since I Was A Little Kid', appears on his '1:Man, 2:Band' live CD. For this he lays down an a cappella backing track, layers it with barbershop harmonies with the audience now helping him clap it out. It's retro blues - the sound of a chain gang singing a spiritual while toiling away on the hard earth. The next, Bernhoft amusingly tells us, will be available on his new "cassette" that he's currently recording and is called 'Choices'. Skanking upbeat guitar lifts this track skywards but it's Bernhoft's vocals which send it into the stratosphere. The mastery that he has over his voice is remarkable - how he draws it up and down from a gritty and soft distortion into smooth strong falsetto and back again shows how well oiled his vocal gears really are.
Another coincidence perhaps as Jarle proclaims that on this last number 'So Many Faces' he's going to do it blind as he removes his troublesome glasses and sees us for the blurs that we truly are. He puts down a driving bass line that counterpoints the vocals and guitar. Bernhoft also blurs the lines effortlessly between the loops and the live playing - you can't tell when one begins and when one ends. Jarle gets the audience to help him out on the backing vocals and both he and the crowd segue into the hand clapping of set closer 'A Bad Place To Reside'. Bernhoft gets to his feet, instruments discarded at his feet, and sings the blues unaccompanied save for his and the audience's solid clapped rhythm. Given the current musical climate, this song really fits in closely with Tom Jones' stripped back spirituals on 'Praise & Blame' although you could say, quite rightly, that Bernhoft was there first as this is also on his live CD that came out at the beginning of the year.
And so: "cometh the man, cometh the hour" was really "cometh the 45 minutes" but who cares? Sure we'd all love Bernhoft to play for longer but, at the same time, we're all thoroughly satisfied. Some of us have come from 50 miles away, some from 150 miles away and some, no doubt, from just down the road - in the final reckoning, to quote Queen: "Was it all worth it, living breathing rock'n'roll, a godforsaken life?" I answer: "Hell yeah."
Photo Kudos - Russ P