MICHELLE live at The Great Escape: an ecstatic, joyful celebration of friendship

May 12, The Old Market, Brighton: The New York group flex their sharp and ambitious collective musicality in a show happy to have a bit of young, dumb fun

For a band that sounds so intricate on record, MICHELLE sure know the power of simple joys. At The Great Escape in Brighton, their first-ever festival appearance, vocalists Emma Lee, Sofia D’Angelo, Layla Ku, and Jamee Lockard move in and out of time with each other, as though they’re devising dance routines with their mates in the school playground. Percussionists Julian Kaufman and Charlie Kilgore, meanwhile, crush and crunch sounds with an elaborate set-up, jamming out and goofing around with bongo drums and a shaker made from a juice bottle. “I filled my new instrument with pebbles from the beach earlier today,” Kaufman gleefully says of the latter. He flashes a smile so wide and excitable you’d think he’d instead found real gold on the Brighton seafront.

The music and choreography is both restless and joyful, as are the six-piece performing it. You’re never far from a brilliant reminder of how unlike other bands MICHELLE are: ‘Mess U Made’s rich and ascendant soul melody is deliberately punctured by a guttural scream from Lee; Kilgore’s stage chatter largely revolves around repeatedly telling the audience at The Old Market that he keeps “fucking up” his sections.

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Yet MICHELLE sound consistently fantastic, locking into infectious grooves and allowing each member to shine. As Ku takes the vocal reins on ‘50/50’, the rest of the band kneel on the side of the stage and watch on in awe, while D’Angelo leads a carefree, funky ‘Syncopate’ with easy confidence. Other tracks from this year’s ‘After Dinner We Talk Dreams’ dazzle, too: ‘Pose’ is transformed into a thumping pop number with swirling synths and full-bodied steel drums, and ‘Expiration Date’ shows off their gorgeously layered group choruses.

There’s a real sweetness to the both band’s harmonies and on-stage connection. When they sing about relationship anxieties on ‘Sunrise’, from the back of the stage, Kaufman and Kilgore act as cheerleaders for the girls, lip-syncing along and snapping their fingers in appreciation whenever someone hits a high note. Their participation is immediate and involving, and offers an anchor of real human warmth.

Michelle band live
Credit: Saffy Needham

More beautiful yet is ‘The Bottom’, the pristine and anthemic centrepiece of MICHELLE’s self-released debut album, 2020’s ‘HEATWAVE’. It’s rendered more playfully tonight, with the added fun of triangles and cowbells, as the band take it in turns to deliver the track’s huge refrain. “I’m not afraid, I know you’re on it,” each member sings respectively, offering conspiratorial, encouraging nods to one another, dancing like nobody else is watching.

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