19th April | Thekla
If you were ever looking to film a ‘visit Bristol’ advert, then it would be hard to find a better day than this. After having been caught off-guard by Wednesday’s surprise flush of heat, people were armed and ready with tinnies and volleyballs, revelling in the cosmic warmth before it inevitably disappeared. One appropriately blissful event that escaped most people’s attention, save for the lucky few hundred who managed to get tickets, was Alfa Mist’s gig at Thekla.
As the sun blended smoothly into the horizon, the audience queued up on that famous harbour wall, allowing the gently cooling air (and the promise of brilliant live music) to escort them onto deck. With a support slot from long-time collaborator, Barney Artist, whose charming energy and slick MC skills were a reminder of the top biller’s hip-hop roots, the stage was set for Alfa Mist and his band to humbly grace.
As they started playing their first tune, ‘Errors’, a beautiful track from 2017’s (soon to be seminal) Antiphon that glides between jumpy funk rhythms and oceanic melodies, I was struck by the age of all the musicians. They wouldn’t look out of place on an undergraduate course. This isn’t obviously such a remarkable thing until you account for the supreme level of musicianship brought by the entire band.
A large amount of Alfa Mist’s appeal stems from his obvious humility, evident through his music and his persona. Rather than use every track as a backing to show off his keyboard wizardry, it was clear that the songs, almost all from Antiphon, were constructed very organically. During the show, not once did virtuosity overshadow the importance of musical narrative. At one point, Alfa Mist addressed this almost directly when he mentioned how the recordings of conversations with his brothers on the album, concerning relationships and family life, were the conceptual backbone of the record.
There were some truly brilliant individual moments. Guitarist Jamie Leeming stunned the room into simmering silence with a long intro for a J Dilla cover. Like a sonic interpretation of a renaissance painting, he had harmony and rhythm dancing into and around each other with a grace not often seen in players this young. However, this was still far from anything you could call showing off.
Kaya Thomas-Dyke held down the bottom end on four strings with poise and perfect rhythm. She received possibly the most enthusiastic response of the evening when she took hold of the vocal mic on ‘Breathe’. Her haunting melodies filled Thekla’s hull.
’Keep On’, the lead track from Antiphon, was, fittingly, the pre-encore set ‘closer.’ I couldn’t take my eyes away from drummer Pete Hill’s hickory-filled hands so delicately yet firmly dancing around the kit. Finding the perfect balance between keeping and playing with time is not easy, and Hill pulled it off effortlessly. The recurring melodic motif of that song also provided trumpeter Johnny Woodham with the basis to relay to us in brass the beauty of the song’s form.
After closing the set as he closed the album, with skip-stepping hip-hop number ‘Brian’, Alfa Mist and his band left the stage, and my suspicions of his modesty were confirmed when I approached him gingerly to sign my Antiphon CD. Telling him that it would get worn out very quickly as the soundtrack to my daily drive through Bristol, he seemed just as grateful to be at his own gig as the rest of us had been.