“Sunday, slow but steady,” Orlando Weeks remarks on the final night of his UK tour. He seems almost impressed that people have sacrificed the chance of an early night before the working week to watch him perform. As it happens, fans of the former Maccabees frontman’s work have had little opportunity to hear songs from his debut album ‘A Quickening’ (2020) and its 2022 follow-up ‘Hop Up’ live due to the pandemic. And so a seated show at the Barbican in fact suits a Sunday – relaxed and comfortable – and allows fans to fully absorb the music.
Crystal-clear sound levels, starry light designs and liquified motion graphics are a boon tonight for Weeks’ stunning mood music. His are songs to be transported by: dreamy, supple and texturally rich. Live, they’re lifted by his flawless falsetto and an excellent troupe of backing musicians (including William Doyle aka East India Youth). As colourful blobs morph on the back screen you’re reminded of early childhood and the discovery of new shapes and sounds. There must be intent in the design. Weeks has based many of his songs on the anticipation of parenthood (‘A Quickening’) while extolling its joys and reimagining the world through his young son’s eyes on ‘Hop Up’.
Weeks takes us on his albums’ journeys, from the gentler brass-inflected ditties of ‘A Quickening’ during the set’s first half to the kinetic pulses of ‘Hop Up’ in the second. ‘Blood Sugar’ is more impressive live than on record. Pitch-perfect harmonies thread between the musicians while militant drums thrum and reverb-laden brass crafts spectral echoes. Later, Weeks introduces ‘Milk Breath’ as “a lullaby”, although it has the opposite effect by visibly stirring the crowd. Looping keys and a droning bass encircle its “my son” refrain as beats build to an extended, dizzying climax.
‘Hey You Hop Up’ really marks where Weeks comes into his own, picking up a small acoustic guitar which finally gives him something to do with his hands. Until now we’ve seen him swing them by his side in a somewhat awkward, on-the-spot pantomime walk. Perhaps it’s evidence of his much-publicised reluctant frontman status. But here, his fidgety energy is channelled beautifully into the strumming, backed by snappy rim-tap rhythms and woodwind FX for an at once taut and free-flowing performance. ‘Bigger’ hears Weeks play the harmonica top-line dextrously over prog-meets-yacht-rock grooves, with the band again letting loose to a thrilling outro.
“There’s a certain kind of pressure in building up to this night,” Weeks says, noting live music’s protracted COVID hiatus. But he concludes that “it’s a joy – it isn’t to be underestimated”. The ensuing standing ovation is surely the measure of that.
Orlando Weeks played:
‘Takes A Village’
‘None Too Tough’
‘Hey You Hop Up‘
‘Safe In Sound’
‘Deep Down Way Out’
‘Look Who’s Talking Now’
‘Way To GO’
‘Big Skies, Silly Faces’