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The Comet Is Coming at Black Box

Ian Patterson By

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The Comet Is Coming
Black Box
18th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
Belfast, N.Ireland
May 3, 2017

The Comet Is Coming knows how to make an entrance. Even the electronic sci-fi effects that kick-started its Black Box concert like some futuristic fanfare was loud enough to send vibrations through every pore of the body. It was a portent of the unrelentingly powerful sonic waves that King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings), Danalogue The Conqueror (Dan Leavers) and Betamax Killer (Maxwell Hallett ) would unleash on the audience, in this, one of the most anticipated events of Belfast's 18th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.

Hutchings was returning to the Black Box a year on from a memorable concert with Sons of Kemet, but this was the first Irish date for The Comet Is Coming.

With the central floor-space cleared of the usual tables the invitation was there to dance and plenty took the opportunity to get up close to the eye of the storm. Swirling keyboard wash, keening saxophone lines and tumbling drums gave way to the bone-shaking dub-step bass rhythms and catchy saxophone motif of "Journey to the Asteroid," one of several tracks from the trio's Mercury Prize-shortlisted CD Channel The Spirits (The Leaf Label, 2016).

Potent as the band's studio persona is, nothing could quite prepare you for the searing energy, the head-spinning intensity and the riotously infectious grooves of The Comet Is Coming on stage. On this opener, Hutchings' equal parts skronk, funk and free-jazz conjured a heady hybrid of Manu Dibango and Albert Ayler.

Leaver's shimmering synthesizer waves, bobbing dance-floor grooves and spacey soundscapes, coupled with Hallet's brilliantly dynamic, shifting beats invited essentially rhythmic interventions from Hutchings, who conjured, in his most trance-like riffs, the burrowing intensity of Brazilian rhythms. Hallett, for his part, wove complex, intoxicating patterns, from primordial club beats to pulsating African polyrhythms. The drummer's most hypnotic African rhythms came on "New Age," a composition of seductive juxtapositions, at once rhythmically pulsating yet melodically lulling.

"Start Running," from the band's ominously titled EP Death to the Planet (2017)—more prophesy than decree—simmered gently from Hallett's low-rumbling mallets intro before ascending to boiling point, with Hutchings unleashing an expansive solo—lean and menacing—over Hallett's rolling patterns. A break of sorts, for all but Leaver, came with the keyboardist's solo spot—a rhapsodic improvisation that perhaps owed as much to Jean Michelle Jarre as it did Eat Static's Merv Pepler.

Hutching and Hallett returned to launch "Neon Baby," the rasping sax motif, thumping bass-drum and industrial keyboard riffs shaking floor, bones and ear-drums. There was no let-up on the raucously infectious "Space Carnival," Hutching's reverb-heavy sax firing on all cylinders over polyrhythms that sent the audience wild. Given the frenzied intensity of the concert to that point, Leaver's neo-church organ intro that followed, and Hutchings balladic musings, together sounded like a signing-off coda, a soft-landing of sorts. Not a bit of it. For the finale, Hutchings cranked up the reverb and launched a furious cascade of riffs and spiralling motifs, the sonic battery compounded by pounding drums and doomy electronics revs. It was gloriously heady stuff that would have left any psychedelic rock outfit on the ropes, pleading for the white towel to be chucked in.

This joint Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and Moving On Music production will go down not just as a highlight of the festival, but as one of the gigs of the year in a city presently bursting at the seams with music of all stripes. And still reeling from The Comet Is Coming.

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