Spooks: Berlin Pfefferberg

Spooks can't live up to the hype in Germany...

Where current tastes for hip hop controversy dictate Eminem must come on stage wielding a chainsaw, and pickets outside shows are the new marketing man’s wet dream, it doesn’t bode well when Spooks enter stage left bearing nothing but saxophones and leather waistcoats. In short, it says ‘jazz leanings’. And it’s a fact, as Kenny G once pointed out, that the saxophone never lies.

However, thankfully, it does often exaggerate, and all comparisons to the likes of Morcheeba can be thrown out of the window. Hot on the heels of ‘Things I’ve Seen’ haunting Top 10s worldwide, Mr. Booka-T, Water Water, Hypno, J.D., and singer Ming-Xia are here playing around the release of their debut album, ‘S.I.O.S.I.S. Vol. 1’. On record it’s a mix of jazz, reggae, hip-hop and neo-soul. Live it’s, er, four MCs shouting and not a lot else.

The MCs and their instrumentalists are certainly true entertainers, an onstage soul revue cum block party, bounding round the stage begging forgiveness from the fires of hell, clustering together to watch and cheer various soloists, and getting the crowd up onstage for the epic ‘Sweet Revenge’. Ming-Xia, though, admittedly suffering after a serious back injury, looks like she’d rather be lying on a nice hospital bed, and besides, the arrangements are so cluttered and the MCs so busy tripping over each other for vocal space, it’s a miracle you can (barely) hear her.

When it locks into a groove, like on forthcoming single ‘Karma Hotel’ and the flamenco stylings of ‘The Mission’, it’s great, but five seems a true crowd. As befits a band releasing a ‘clean’ version of their album, it’s a true family affair, but a million miles from the high-tech digitals the age expects. No one leaves disappointed, though if we are indeed here, as J.D. suggests, because we’re “looking for something fresh”, we’re slipping out unsatisfied.

Tim Milner