After Orlando Weeks and his new three-piece band have performed their first song at Hackney venue EartH – an atmospheric, somewhat mystifying opener of calming but complex neo-jazz – a man in the audience quietly asks his neighbour, “Which one is he?”
It’s a reasonable question. The former Maccabees frontman retreated from the spotlight when the indie band split in 2016, and now returns with original solo material – but there’s no fanfare, no forced celebration.
There’s also no nostalgia for the Maccabees era – no throwbacks or fan favourites to speak of. Instead the new music boasts shades of the ambient post-rock of 1980s band Talk Talk, at once intimate and urgent. This gig feels special, offering new material from Weeks’ forthcoming solo album (due for release later this year), from which just one track, ‘Safe in Sound’, has been released so far.
The Maccabees’ dissolution shook the indie world – 14 years of shaping and bolstering the landscape of immense British guitar bangers is no mean feat. But the news came with the promise of closure, with a farewell tour giving fans one last goodbye in 2017 NME called their final gig, in north London’s Alexandra Palace, “the very pinnacle of heartbreaking”. Tonight though, it’s a new era with an entirely different atmosphere. We’ve had ample time to mourn, and now Weeks gently eases us into a wholly new sound to fall in love with.
The stage is flooded with diffused light, blurring each performer, welding vision and sound into one. A disco ball forms the centrepiece of the stage, placed at the musicians’ feet like a campfire. It slowly bursts with life, refracting every other light source and performing its own spellbinding dance across several rip-raw moments.
Weeks is joined onstage by three musicians; they form a semi-circle, levelling the playing field and enabling a fluid microcosm of ethereal jazz-type arrangements that melt into each other. Clockwise: keyboard player Sami El-Enany, Weeks, trumpeter Wilf Petherbridge and drummer Luca Caruso, all microscopically in sync, nodding meditatively. What ensues is a hypnotic display.
Musically, Weeks has captured lightning in a bottle. His music is stripped-back yet rich, eschewing guitars entirely in favour of luminous brass solos and muscular percussion. His vocals are pure as crystal, featuring a perfectly calibrated echo, somewhere between James Blake and Bon Iver. In fact, this gig shares traits with the latter’s stunning residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2018.
The songs in this hour-long set seamlessly connect into each other and ‘Safe in Sound’, the penultimate track, teems with ambitious instrumentation. It’s a certified showstopper.
Weeks has always been a convincing showman, but here he’s humble, mostly glued to the mic, his frame vertical throughout. This is a beguiling show of restrained energy, a deeply felt performance of a major album to come. The singer has made music to hold someone close to, a live experience urging you to reach out and squeeze their hand.