After their highly charged show at the New Victoria Theatre last Thursday (which constituted their only London gig on their recent tour) I was very surprised to see that the critics from the rock music press had not taken this opportunity to re-elevate Kokomo to a position of respect. But no – there sometimes really does appear to be a conspiracy of silence against the band which began around the time of the Naughty Rhythms Tour which they did with Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers and Doctor Feelgood when there seemed to be a lot of unnecessary mud-slinging in some quarters.
Only one major paper to my certain knowledge has come clean with Kokomo and deigned to print their name in black and white and that is the excellent and promising Streetlife fortnightly who’ve come up with a thumbs up for the band. As it was the band played a high energy set that is sure to have placed them nearer to the hearts of their followers and maybe won them a few more amongst those in the audience who had not seen them before.
As usual the instrumentalists of the combo began with their now-statutory warm-up number before the vocalists arrived on stage and they kicked off into a selection of songs from their albums KOKOMO and RISE AND SHINE. The songs were quite admirably delivered in a show that exuded warmth, power and (dare I say it?) soul. Their performances of the songs they chose are truly emotive and emotional, they always hit exactly the right level and perform with a true depth of feeling and sincerity that can honestly be called ‘soulful’.
Amongst the numbers they played; particularly memorable is a hot, sweating version of the title track “Rise And Shine’ that must have had toes tapping (at the least) throughout the theatre. Their versions of “Feelin” Good”,”It Ain’t Cool (To Be Cool No More)” and “I Can Understand It” were also virtual dynamite. Hard-hitting music whose rhythm and propulsion could hardly be ignored. It was a pity though that they did not substitute one of the aforementioned songs for “Use Your Imagination” as the last number of the set because “Use Your Imagination” lacked that fire and tight energy that these others possessed and allowed the intensity to fall just a little as the evening drew to a close. It is not only the up-tempo numbers that show Kokomo to good advantage though. On the slow numbers they also hit hard emotively. The band has a brace of outstanding singers and each is fully capable of handling sensitive songs.
One of the most moving and tender moments of the evening was when Dyan Birch was featured on “Without Me”, a remarkable song by Frank Collins, Dyan Birch and Tony O’Malley.
Possibly the positive factor about this group that it is easiest to overlook is the instrumental prowess of the musicians. Each is an accomplished master of his particular instrument as the solos in “Use Your Imagination” more than confirmed, yet each player is perfectly in control; the reins are held in tight and only rarely allowed to stretch out. No twenty minute blitzing solos in each number, no throwing keyboards across the stage in contrived attempts to whip up excitement; just the playing, more powerful because of its restraint where none of the energy is dissipated fruitlessly.
It would be pointless to single out specific players for mention because I would merely work my way through the whole band. It was an excellent concert by an essential band. and I have only two complaints: firstly that it was not promoted at somewhere like the Hammersmith Palais, where it would have been possible to dance when the music moved you, the second is that they didn’t play “Angel”, my personal favourite by the band.
Unfortunately the support band, Kilburn and the High Roads, lost much of their humour and raw appeal that can be such a positive asset in their work in pubs/clubs when they transferred to a larger venue. For the most part the vocals, quite essential to this band, were inaudible and their sense of fun fell sadly flat.
As for Kokomo: next time they play… see them.
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