Tag Archives: The Institute

The Robert Glasper Experiment @ The Institute, Digbeth

robert glasper

The vibes at The Institute on Thursday night were as cool as the soft, blue colours that gently lit the main room. I walked in to the fresh, jazzy sounds of Mercury Prize nominee Soweto Kinch. He was a more than adequate starting act, and after displaying his reputable talents as a saxophonist, he then revealed his skills as both a written lyricist and freestyle emcee. Kinch’s slot was capped off with a jaw-dropping display of lyrical skill, in which he set himself an acrostic challenge of incorporating words that spelled D-I-G-B-E-T-H into improvised verses (the words having been shouted out by random members of the audience). From due diligence to hunger, Soweto Kinch surpassed the challenge with ease, to a hearty and well-deserved applause.

Shortly after, The Robert Glasper Experiment took to the stage, and as soon as they did, Glasper charmingly suspended all elements of pretence with a simple “Hello, how you doing?” For the most part, I truly did not know what to expect from their live performance. Prior to the gig I was mostly familiar with the group’s collaborative works (including features from Erykah Badu, Emeli Sande, and Yasiin Bey/Mos Def, to name a very select few) but huge crowd favourites such as ‘Ah Yeah’ and ‘Let It Ride’ proved to be just as powerful without their respective vocalists, and for many songs this was somewhat of a blessing in disguise, shifting the focus towards the band’s ability to play off of each other and improvise, which is essential of any show associated with jazz.

What was refreshing about the band was that, despite Glasper being their namesake, there was no true frontman of the group. Equal attention was given to Casey Benjamin (vocoder and saxophone), Mark Colenburg (drums), and Travis Burgess (bass, presumably filling in for Derrick Hodge) as well as Robert Glasper himself. In fact, the term solo was taken quite literally during the show, with other band members often leaving the stage to lend the spotlight to their fellow band members, whose showcases of instrumental skill did not disappoint. Even the vocals were at a casual volume that blended with the other instruments. However, this often meant that Benjamin’s words were drowned out by the drums, particularly during Colenburg’s heavier jams. At times this was a little bit frustrating, and I felt that perhaps the synthesised vocals that gave the Black Radio albums (Black Radio 2 in particular) such a unique touch simply could not be done justice by a live performance – or maybe the levels just needed a bit of tweaking. Either way, for the songs with more recognisable lyrics, nothing was lost in translation, as the strong crowd helped to raise the volume for The Robert Glasper Experiment’s well-known renditions of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, and ‘Lovely Day’. The latter which performance entailed Benjamin’s light vocals making the perfect match for Glasper’s gentle piano chords.

Covers were certainly expected due to the aforementioned Nirvana and Bill Withers numbers, but that knowledge didn’t prepare me for their sensational performances of ‘No Church In the Wild’, and a shorter, but more polished version of Radiohead’s ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, which somehow seamlessly transitioned into a slow and emotive version of ‘Get Lucky’ (don’t ask how, but believe me, it really did).

Just when we thought the music couldn’t get any better, guest vocals from a Birmingham-born female singer added a beautiful, organic tone to their smooth, Neo soul sound, and in the closing few numbers, Glasper spoke the immortal words, “Soweto, where you at? Come spit some raps”. Mr Kinch graced the stage once again with his saxophone talents and more freestyle finesse, and the way he thrived off the musical environment around him was a genuine treat to watch.

All in all, it was a fantastic performance from an incredibly tight and talented band, and the at-times smothered vocals in no way detracted from what the gig was truly about: good, soulful music. 

by Oliver Clifford

Tom Odell @ The Institute

tom odell

Other than accidentally hearing Another Love on the radio, I knew very little about singer-songwriter Tom Odell before seeing him live at The Institute a couple of weeks ago. My friend had a spare ticket so I tagged along and left two hours later completely converted.

When the BRIT-Award winning musician strode on stage he was greeted by a screaming crowd, yet with mysterious modesty he went straight to the piano and launched into Grow Old With Me without so much as a word.

It’s clear that he’s not into fame; it’s the music he cares about. His furious passion in playing the piano is mesmerising and I found myself wishing I could play an instrument with the intensity he does. Due to Tom’s onstage presence, only a simple set was required. Yet a magical atmosphere was created by the giant light bulbs positioned around the stage. They glowed dimly during the melancholy songs, whilst a spotlight was cost on Odell, and flashed randomly during his more energetic tracks.

Stand out tracks were those lonely, brooding ones he does so well, such as his first single Can’t Pretend and my favourite, Sense, a touching song from his debut album Long Way Down. Odell has said his lyrics are inspired by his “inability to sustain a relationship with someone for longer than six months” and the lyrics to Sense are a real tear-jerker, such as when he poignantly asks “If I fell in love a thousand times, would it all make sense?”

Another highlight was his penultimate song- a surprise cover of Etta James’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You”. The crowd were all singing along and thumping their feet, whilst Odell’s cheeky substitution of ‘you’ for ‘all of you’ had his female fans cheering.

Odell also seemed to get on very well with the band- they were often laughing together and the crescendo of music they created together for the finale was incredible; it seemed as though they had forgotten the audience entirely and were in a world of their own.

Seeing Tom Odell live made my first experience of his songs so much more tangible and moving; I was surrounded by people who his music meant so much to, whilst also seeing how much it meant to him. His lyrics are incredibly touching and I found myself desperate to download his songs so I could listen to the words again. Above all, Tom Odell is something very rare: a musician who is even better heard live.

Ellicia Pendle