Sampha @ The Forum, Melbourne, Tuesday May 30, 2017

All the way from South London and on the second night of his tenure at Melbourne’s Forum Theatre, Sampha Sisay had a soaked and nearly sold-out crowd enthralled.

Backed by a sparse three-dude band (bespectacled Benjamin Walker on a vertically-mounted sampler pad, agile trigger-kit player Pauli Lovejoy whose smile split wider with every accented beat, and the incredibly unassuming-looking J Vonshee in a baseball cap and goatee, on synths) and making full use of the Forum’s moody light rigs, Sampha appeared against a geometric horizon arc backdrop which variously suggested sunrise, sunset, moon-rise or -set, depending on its glowing colours.

The softly-spoken vocalist/pianist opened with the first cut from Process – his acclaimed debut album of this year – Plastic 100°C, and moved through Timmy’s Prayer, Under and Too Much. The dynamism of his voice rivalled that of ol’ Eurovision Croatia’s – that is to say, the way he moved between rich/deep and high, glass-boned fragility was amazing, perfectly exemplified in Too Much’s line “and you on my mind” – the ‘you’ in that lyric hits an octave higher than the rest of the phrase, and Sampha sang it like he was reaching up to tug the sweetest cherry from the top of the tree.

Spending most of his time behind the keys, Sisay did venture further front of stage with just the mic for Reverse Faults, Happens and the gorgeous Kora Sings, moving to stage right to articulate “you don’t know how strong you are” against the track’s lithe Afrobeats, pummelled out by Walker and Lovejoy. The primary set finished with Blood On Me, which featured added extra-complex cowbell rhythms and rising screams of electronic instrumentation, while the backdrop became bathed in vivid red.

Sampha saved (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano for his encore – which he played solo on a keyboard with the right hand on old-school piano voice, but the left in a warm, soft synth voice which gave the bass part an ember-glow – and followed it up with a drum circle for Without; the four men cuddled around two floor toms, timbales, a drum pad and some woodblocks, losing themselves in and riffing on the track’s pattering rhythms.

A stunning performance; I don’t think anyone was upset that they braved the heaving rain for this rainbow. If you get the chance, Sampha is a must-see.

Process is available now via Remote Control.

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