Trio GoGo Penguin emerge through the smoke of the stage as if they’re walking over gothic moors rather than the boards of a Bristol landmark. It sets the tone for their performance; a complex and moody affair that’s undercut by the nightclub scene their music alludes to. It is under these circumstances that the statues of Nick Blacka, Chris Illingworth, and Jon Scott are brought to life in order to play.
Their cosmic brand of electronic free jazz makes the solar system fall apart in their hands. They bend their instruments and our ears to their will. One’s heart beats faster in their presence; these are no false idols.
Bassist Blacka is the star of the show. He picks at his instrument like the strings are cherries for his lover. His bass wails, making the fourth player of their classic trio a woman scorned. GoGo Penguin’s instruments howl and moan over the electronic beat of their songs. It’s the quickest shot of humanity.
The set mostly chronicles their latest album – the self-titled 2020 release GoGo Penguin – while drawing on the highlights of the decade they’ve spent together as a band. Their songs pour into one another like red wine into stemmed glasses; it makes their performance feel closer to a film soundtrack than a concert. While the similarity of their songs to one another may seem monotonous and repetitive to some ears, in concert they feel never-ending, yet ever-changing.
With music that seems to pay homage to jazz greats like Pharoah Sanders – one of their songs seems distinctly inspired by his twenty-minute release ‘Harvest Time’ – it’s clear the altar they bow down to.
While there is an initial dissonance between the classical style of their playing and the nightlife roots of their live performances, the eye and ear are meshed easily; just picture Bill Evans at Berghain.
They’re famous for the frenetic activity of their live performances, and for good reason. The lights soar over and around them like snipers seeking out a target. They laser through the piano and drumkit like hands trying to put a finger on the band’s pulse. The heat crackles and drags over them, searching for space between the tight knit breathiness of the crowd.
They find it, but barely; GoGo Penguin don’t stop until they’re forced to come up for air.
Words by Kate Jeffrie