Laughton Kora Live at Ponsonby Social Club, 6 June 2020: Concert Review

Saturday June 6th at Ponsonby Social Club birthed a new form of musical entertainment that the Auckland scene has never quite seen. How fitting given the uniquely enforced cabaret style of the COVID Level 2 performance space.  Think synthetic & digital sounds meeting living instruments. Think loops and synths mixing with the head-kicking analog grooves of Bass guitar, Saxophone, Flute, Electric Guitar and vocals. The digital and the analog in harmonious accord.

Headliner Laughton Kora described the cyborg-like set up as “a music geek’s dream.” Where technology can sometimes blur the heart of the music, it was clear from the outset that this set up brought a righteously organic vibe.

Hypnotising the crowd into the performance space was poet and musician Jake Bartos, frontman of Summer Thieves. Jake’s transparent and expressive lyric bought the whole room to a pin-drop with the words I’m still stuck on you, I hope you’re still stuck on me too. Where one might expect a harder opening for a multi-DJ set, Bartos cultivated a sensitive and intimate space for the Laughton & the two Sams to fill.

Kora followed suit with a beautifully nostalgic rendition of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down,) capturing the space with that iconic guitar tone that takes you into Kill Bill Vol. 1. With the seated and physically distanced crowd in the pocket, Kora’s first drum loop of the night drove us into a solo looping set that really kicked off the grooves. Live looping can often be naff and cheap, but when it is driven by a musical ninja like Laughton, heads move. Kora had the crowd audibly gasping, hollering and appreciating his musical wizardry throughout his solo set in a manner reminiscent of a 1950’s bebop set in New York City.

In an unprecedented performance NZ wide, the three performers linked their laptops through Ableton Live using a relatively uncommon function of the programme known as Ableton Link. This allowed them to sync their BPM (Beats per minute) giving each member creative control in different moments during the set. This paired with significant instrumental depth across the three players allowed for a diverse range of sounds throughout the gig.

The set was fresh, opening with Raphael Sadiiiq’s super funky So Ready featuring Kora on Bass Guitar, Sam Jones on Synth Keyboard, and Sam Allen on Lead Vocal & Electric Guitar. Allen has a warm and youthful vocal tone which lends itself well to funk-pop fusion styles. With the crowd already primed for funk, Double Exposure’s My Love is Free was well received. Artists such as Joe Cocker, Disclosure, Anderson Paak came next, allowing multi-instrumentalist and producer Sam Jones to really come into his own. It is rare to see such virtuosity across so many instruments, with Jones showing prodigious attack not only on the keyboard, but also on the flute and tenor saxophone.

This is the new thing. People will talk about this gig in years to come as musicians begin to emerge in this format and bridge the gap long overdue between DJ technology and live instruments. It is rare to find one instrumentalist who can bridge this gap, let alone three to find each other and collaborate.

As we sink back into Level 1 this week, the performance stage may begin to resemble what it once did. I, for one, am glad that I was lucky enough to witness and be part of a moment in NZ history where some of our greatest made technological and musical history in a time of no gigs.

To hear what I am talking about, tune into @SamsonLiveNZ to see details of their next performance on Facebook Live.

Josh Clark