21st June | Bristol Amphitheatre
Photo: Darren Paul Thompson
Summer solstice is always a special time of year, it celebrates the longest day of the year and gives people the opportunity to recuperate and get recharged. This year’s was no exception, only I was lucky enough to welcome it surrounded by the beauty of Stonehenge, before seeing it out in Bristol with the incredible Simon Green, aka Bonobo, as he mesmerised onlookers with his heavily cinematic, awe-inspiring performance.
Having seen Bonobo before, I was expecting something special – and his first Bristol show in four years didn’t disappoint. Blessed with blue skies and an unusually hot evening, the serenity of the surrounding water and the acoustics of Canon’s Marsh Amphitheatre made it the perfect setting to kick off this year’s Bristol Sounds series.
A cheer erupted through the crowd as Bonobo eased himself into position on stage, starting the night with ‘Migration’, the opening number from his latest album of the same name. A climatic journey, the track holds your attention from start to finish, building to an intricate, piano-led release around its mid-point.
Delving further into the new album were ‘7th Sevens’ and the immensely poignant ‘Break Apart’, with Szjerdene putting a soulful take on Rhye’s original vocals. Bonobo’s onstage presence is anything but self-indulgent adding to the ever present integrity of his shows. With all eyes on Szjerdene and the beautifully-shot music video projected on the background, Bonobo was able to focus on all the important things, like juggling mixing, playing guitar and controlling effects amongst everything else he was cunningly working away at.
Old favourites, ‘Towers’, ‘Kiara’ and ‘Surfaces’ are always crowd pleasers, but nothing quite got an applaud like ‘Kong ‘when it broke down into its comfortingly vibrant guitar riff. ‘First Fires’ once again featured Szjerdene on vocals and transfixed the crowd.
‘Bambro Koyo Grande’, the heavily African-influenced, bass-heavy number signalled a change in mood and brought those upbeat festival vibes everyone had been waiting for. As the track slowly built to the unmistakable drop, the crowd moved in synchronicity and you could feel the excitement building with each chant. As the voices became more distant, a synthy crescendo transitioned perfectly into a minimalist yet bass-y house drop, sending the crowd into a unanimous reach for the now purple sky.
As it turned to dark blue, the party vibes became more apparent, the crowd climbing on each other’s shoulders to get a better view. Of the tracks that followed, ‘We Could Forever’ (from his 2013 album Black Sands) stood out on top, with its lively flute melody sending a wave of energy through those there.
It was nearing the end of the set when Bonobo treated audience members to a few more of his most recent tracks including ‘No Reason’, ‘Ontario’ and ‘Figures’. He closed the night with ‘Kerala’, perfectly embodying what makes Green’s work so special; intricately-layered pieces with a driving beat.
As the main set ended, Bonobo wished everyone a happy solstice before exiting the stage to quite deafening applause, complete with textbook high-pitched screams. Minutes of unsure chatter lingered as the ‘will he do an encore’ debate commenced. But to his fans’ great pleasure Green returned for two more, including ‘Know You’, whose almost tribal drum breakdown made for a high-impact ending that ensures everyone left with a buzz.
With the added bonus of a scorching day, and with the magic of summer solstice in the air, Bonobo’s breathtaking performance without a doubt made those Glastonbury blues fade away, once again reminding me why I’m so lucky to be living in a city like Bristol.
Listen to ‘Know You’ below.