London Shepherd’s Bush Empire

For three hours we succumb to a perfectly choreographed-to-look-spontaneous riot of vaudeville rap. And it's fucking awesome...

The man doesn’t know when to stop. Christ, it’s very possible that he simply can’t stop. Whether clambering over the Empire to rock out from the balcony or keeping us entranced with a stripped-down, solo ‘Diallo’, Wyclef is always a thrillingly instinctive entertainer, a ringmaster, the mad panto dame of hip hop.

This grandstanding showmanship has never really worked on record, ‘The Ecleftic’ especially coming across like a sloppy exercise in meaningless self-aggrandizement. It’s essentially charmless, something that’s hard to credit when the man is only a few feet away from you. In his own personal circus arena, Wyclef dominates us, emotionally and physically, whether we like it or not. For three hours we succumb to a perfectly choreographed-to-look-spontaneous riot of vaudeville rap. And it’s fucking awesome.

You imagine this is what it must’ve been like seeing James Brown at the Apollo, or Stevie Wonder in his ’70s heydey, or Prince circa ‘Purple Rain’, that effortless musical genius and flamboyant swagger matched by songs which get straight to the point, hit the feet, no fucking around. But what sets Wyclef apart from those three funk titans, is the fact that he’s assimilated their style and another decade’s worth of musical influences, and is prepared to mix it all, till he and his band become a kind of living jukebox, spinning through the best music of the last thirty years, cutting between styles with a wholly irresistable arrogance.

Being such a natural sonic alchemist means Wyclef can flit from reggae to rap to gospel to pop, he can play his guitar behind his head, have a go on the drums, croon like Marley, twist the lyrics of the unbelievably affecting ‘Gone Til November’ so it becomes a paean to dope, get us all jumping when the DJ drops Men At fucking Work, and still remind us why we paid attention in the first place by conjuring taut versions of ‘Ready Or Not’ and ‘Guatanemera’.

And that barely scratches the surface of what actually happens tonight. There’s Mick Jagger too, bouncing up and down in his seat while his kids try to pretend they don’t know him. There’s some tiny pre-teen Wyclef pulls up on stage to help him bawl through ‘It Doesn’t Matter’, about as far away from The Rock as you could get, but the kid’s hilarious, throwing the mic out to the audience like a stadium pro. There’s Wyclef’s sister Melky and her stunning, acappella ‘Amazing Grace’. Oh yeah, and a dancing competition. And a fantastic blast through ‘Jump Around’. And…

And it could’ve been another three hours.

Christian Ward

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