Herbaliser Live: San Francisco 11/30/08


I’m Calling Your Herb Schwag: The Herbaliser Concert Review

With the name of the headlining band being Herbaliser, I shouldn’t have been as surprised by the crowd. As I entered The Independent, wafting through the hallway was a strong smell of BO ushering me in by the funk fanatics who might be labeled by some as hippies—“Oh no! Did he say hippies?” Deeper into the crowd the BO was overpowered by the marijuana smoke, which if I had to choose, I’d choose the latter. As the lights dimmed, and some began to feel high, we all began on our journey into another world, with The Herbaliser as our guide.

Same As It Never Was--quite a conundrum, and the title of The Herbaliser’s most recent album. The UK band originally comprised of Ollie Teeba and Jake Wherry, is an electro, funk hip hop group that forever were pillars of the label Ninja Tune. With a new label, an added vocalist in Jessica Darling, the band is the same as it never was: performing with a full band playing space tripping funk, all layered over hip hop rhythm and soul, The Herbaliser sound is new and yet, can be as good as old.

The UK group’s sound is about layers. It’s not easily definable, not even one track is just one style. Throughout their performance, at some point it seemed every instrument (sax, trumpet, keyboard and flute) was altered by some digital effect. Even the tempos varied. One track might have the flare of Latin samba, and is followed by a chilled track sounding like a Groove Armada-after-hours joint. Just look at my notes from that night and get a sense of how the music varied:

Track 5: Sounds like tripped out skunk funk, with the lights above the band slowly scanning the room for ET.
Track 6: Picks up the pace, trumpet is accompanied by DJ’s heavy scratching, like hip hop music meets Brazil 66.

In defense of my notes—I only had one beer, and I didn’t inhale. The crowd was not fazed by the changing styles as they bobbed their heads all night like drones; while some danced, others “moved” in what could be deemed as interpretive dance (the woman in front of me continuously flapped her hands like wings during transitions in the song).

Why haven’t I mentioned Jessica Darling?—because she wasn’t really memorable. While many critics have compared the singer to Alice Russel or Amy Winehouse, this critic doesn’t agree. To her credit, her voice at times has a soulful raspy quality—but her projection and range cannot match Winehouse. When she performed, the unique sound of the band became diluted by empty repetitive lyrics: at one point she sang “step up/ give me your love/ right now” five times over and over. While I commend The Herbaliser for trying something different, they should find a vocalist more like Fanny Franklin from Orgone.

The show was the conclusion of San Francisco’s Funk Festival, put on by Sunset Productions. More than just funk, The Herbaliser is a group which exemplifies how hip hop is a melting pot of so many different types of music. While Same As It Never Was features rappers Jean Grae and More or Less, the band stated that originally they were all instrumental because there weren’t any rappers to bring aboard in the UK. The music is the same as it always was—great—and never before was it a band with a vocalist.

- David Johnson-Igra

[ play ] | [ download mp3 ] Herbaliser - You're Not All That feat Jessica Darling

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