As song introductions go, “This one was built on a sample taken from a cow carcass” is fairly unique. This is the world of Cosmo Sheldrake, though, a weird and wonderfully eccentric place for sure but also one that is entrancing and hypnotic. A night celebrating the release of The Much Much How How and I, it is a simple show built entirely around one man and his ability to craft magic from a vast collection of samples and a genius for finding beauty in the strangest of places.
Support comes from the Norwegian folk trio, I See Rivers. With gorgeous harmonies reminiscent at times of First Aid Kit as well as an endearing stage presence, they quickly win over a crowd that has filled the room well before their slot began. Interchanging vocals from song to song, they conjure up a mood that would perfectly suit a watery trip through the fjords of their homeland. The jaunty shanty-esque ‘Da Ram’ livens a mood that had settled into bucolic bliss, but overall the atmosphere remains one of tranquil beauty throughout. There is a lot to love about I See Rivers tonight, so it will be interesting to see how they progress in the months to come.
Wearing a sensible woollen jumper (quickly discarded due to the volcanic heat inside the venue), Cosmo Sheldrake is met with an eruption of cheers as he arrives on stage. Starting with the funky groove of ‘The Fly’, setting samples up on his keyboard before looping them in with vocals, it is an infectious beginning that quickly darts around in his trademark unconventional style. For an album launch show, there is an odd focus as only four new songs are played. Indeed, there are as many improvisational tracks created on the night as there are pieces from The Much Much How How And I. Each improvisation is endearingly introduced with the origins of each sample being explained, the first containing snippets of willow warblers, piped butcher birds, ravens and an owl’s hoot that is transformed into a ghostly hip-hop beat. Cosmo’s ability to build layers of vocals through looping is sensational, as he shows on one song where he transforms himself into a one-man doo wop-style band before turning into a human beat box.
The first new track is ‘Come Along’, the orchestra existing only in his keyboard tonight (though he did bring his xylophone along). This quickly merges into ‘Tardigrade Song’, a homage to the sense of contentment that Sheldrake imagines the micro-animals enjoy – and one that strangely reminds me of an uber-geek version of Paul McCartney’s ‘We All Stand Together’. That theme of contentment seems entirely apt tonight, as the ever-present grin on Sheldrake’s face only widens as the volume leaps and the tribal beats rip through the room. The completely new ‘Run Rings Right Wrongs’, a Dr Seuss-meets-Disney rhyming list, survives a false start before the nagging and fluttering motif to ‘Wriggle’ takes hold of the audience’s ears.
There is a sense during the performance that the sheer creation of each piece of music must be a delight to Cosmo Sheldrake, a continual game of “What would it sound like if I added this?” It makes a live show a thing of wonder, something that only those present can appreciate fully. It may not always quite turn into music to dance to, but it contains a joie de vivre that elevates it far beyond mere chin-stroking hipster vibes. Approaching life and music completely on his terms, instead of an evening of ‘new album’ music, we are instead given a set made up, in large parts, of tracks so brand new that they literally didn’t exist before the start of the show. Completely unique, just like the genius that created it.