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GoGo Penguin at Riverbank Arts Centre

Ian Patterson By

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GoGo Penguin
Riverbank Arts Centre
Newbridge, Ireland
October 31, 2015

With the Curragh Racecourse just a few furlongs away, Newbridge is more famous for horse racing than for its bridge that spans The Liffey. However, the independent Riverbank Arts Centre—just forty minutes from Dublin—is doing its bit to broaden the town's profile as, in addition to a great place for a flutter, a home to local, national and international arts. On this Halloween night, the Riverbank Arts Centre's intimate, acoustically excellent theatre welcomed GoGo Penguin, the Mercury Prize-nominated Manchester trio, whose acoustic credentials belie pulsating grooves to rival the best electronica.

The ninety-minute set drew largely from the trio's second album, v2.0 (Gondwana Records, 2014), though several tracks from the band's forthcoming album Man Made Object (Blue Note, 2016) were aired, including set-opener "All Res," a potent cocktail of Chris Illingworth's repeated piano motif, Nick Blacka's probing melodic bass lines and Rob Turner's upbeat contemporary polyrhythms. This was followed by another new track, "Unspeakable World," which served up equally memorable melodic and rhythmic contours—the three musicians shifting from tight unison play to more complex interlocking patterns.

The juxtaposition of these new compositions with the bustling "Kamaloka" from v2.0 suggested that GoGo Penguin haven't tampered too much with the original template on this new album. The trio's epic urban anthems suggested a myriad of influences, from the modern jazz piano trio aesthetic represented by Neil Cowley, Rusconi and e.s.t. to the grooves of Aphex Twins and Massive Attack and the hypnotic orchestral minimalism of Philip Glass. The distillation, however, resulted in original music that carried a strong personal stamp.

When the layered, jazz-meets-drum 'n'bass rhythms and melodic hooks were at their most insistent GoGo Penguin's chemistry was irresistible. On slower numbers too, the trio was persuasive; an as yet unnamed ballad of delicate lyricism bled—via Turner's brushes and sighing Tibetan bowls—into "Murmuration," which rose from elegiac understatement to soaring intensity, fuelled by Blacka's ascending arco lift-off. There was a hint of Radiohead in the drama of "One Percent"—an exhilarating anthem of collective and individual brio.

Only "Last Words" from the band's debut album, Fanfares (Gondwana Records, 2012) got a run out, with Illingworth's gently beguiling melody contrasting with Tuner's skittering attack. Perhaps the trio feel they've moved on musically from that studio outing; certainly there was more than enough arresting new material to parade. "Branches Break"—another offering from the band's forthcoming Blue Note debut—married ambient and dance grooves with the sort of celebratory summer vibe that's seen GoGo Penguin move crowds at dance festivals in Croatia and France.

Melodic finesse and muscular grooves guided "Initiate," another bold new composition that whetted the appetite for the new CD. The atmospheric, rhythmically undulating "To Drown in You" and the alternating grooves and staccato frenzy of "Garden Dog Barbeque" rounded out the set in emphatic style. "Hopopono," with its sunny melodies and insistent beat made a fine encore.

The flat open plain of The Curragh was a gathering place in pre-Christian times for pagan societies and warring parties of Irish mythology. Real battles were waged here too in bygone centuries and the ground ran with the blood of English and Irish soldiers alike. GoGo Penguin mightn't have summoned up any ghosts this Halloween night but it certainly worked plenty of its home-spun magic.

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