Live Review – Jack Garratt @ O2 Academy, Oxford
The crackle of a hypersensitive microphone falls patchily through thickset smoke and sweat; now the O2 can taste the storm. Soon enough, Jack Garratt’s elephantine bass synth blares out between thickets of loop pad percussion, rocking the floor in slow motion suspense, and Synesthesia Pt.1 already has us by the throat.
An obvious place to start perhaps, but the very name of his latest EP opener offers a mission statement for the live experience as a whole. Garratt pushes the one-man band set up to its maximalist limits with an array of guitar, pedals, pads and keys and enough lights to line the streets at Christmas. The show is a riot of sound and colour. On the transition from wailing Stratocaster to wobbling bass in last year’s single Water, blue LEDs plumb the murky depths of the room, while a poisonous purple creeps up the back wall to the bitter first words of Chemical. For this one, our claps spattered around the drum loop drive the song smoothly over the drop, and Garratt’s falsetto falters not on notes far higher than the audience screams that follow them.
Indeed, Jack Garratt never falters. Like a child at the pick ‘n’ mix, he is spoilt for choice and bounces between instruments with inexhaustible energy. When a drum pad fails midway through the show he pauses proceedings for a few jokes, and the entire set is littered with inspirational spoken interludes. Humble though he seems, Garratt's showmanship becomes suffocating, and ultimately we come to wonder about the man behind the beard. Stripping out the trademark synthesizers for simple guitar backing in a new song, Garratt intones ‘When I grow old…’ sweetly, but there is a surfeit of strength in his voice, and no fear until a dying whimper at its close. With the dynamics switched and all lights on him, Jack Garratt has certainly bared himself artistically, but not personally. If Jack Garratt ever falls short, it is not for lack of trying: his apparent aversion to genre boundaries is admirable, and it is, after all, with our addition of such constrictive words as ‘neo-’, ‘nu-’ and ‘post-’ that Soul becomes soulless. Rather it is his conceptual ambition and his determination to do everything, please everyone, that make a couple of moments contrived and diffuse.
When it all comes together though, we know exactly why we have done too. Garratt closes with The Love You’re Given, and his delectably delicate falsetto breathes a rise and fall to pulses of keyboard chords and coloured lights in the build up to a strobe-shredded and percussion-punctured aural assault of a drop. With this brutal farewell, Jack Garratt’s travelling show packs up after no more than three quarters of an hour. His sublime synaesthesia escapes our grasp, and we are left salivating for more.