Whilst Young Fathers' current tour in support of 'Cocoa Sugar' has been their biggest to date, they performed tonight in the relatively humble, but charismatic Columbia Theatre - a modernist theatre purpose-built for entertaining American troops, on the edge of Tempelhof park (site of the airlift in West Berlin), to a Berlin crowd perspiring in an early-April Indian summer. The album's title maintains the ambivalence of 'White Men are Black Men Too' and the band's general irreverence to critical appraisal. Really, their lyrics and music yields far more to deeply felt emotion than to over-analysis. The 'Cocoa Sugar' album has been called their 'most accessible' which obscures more than it clarifies: most songs display the same frenetic pace, influence and musical imagination, that can be both rapturous (on 'In my View', 'Wire', 'Toy, 'Tremolo'), but can still occasionally lead to a more friction-heavy listening experience.
With a paired back stage setup of sequencer-synth, standing drum kit, Alloysious, Kayus and Graham's shadows are projected onto a back-lit blank screen. It's the size and quality of their voices which fills the huge imaginative space of their songs with a mix of abyssal screams, anthemic choruses, harmonies and guttural, garage rapping that could disinter the most musically inert. The eponymous chorus to 'Queen is Dead' is properly chanted and the rapturous chorus to 'I heard' ("Inside I'm feeling dirty"), the only other song performed from their debut 'Tape Two', is enough to prompt a huge singalong from the local crowd, who are otherwise a little less raucous than the band's usual UK crowds.
The power of this performance also lies in the setlist and little juxtapositions thrown up: 'Feasting' the slowest, most discordant number from 'White Men are Black Men Too' paves the way for the frenetic, and tonight further accelerated versions of 'Wow' and 'Toy', which seem shackled to one another lyrically and rhythmically. Tremolo, one of the highlights of the new album, makes typically great use of their harmonised rapping, alongside a simple drum, synth and glock rhythm with its catchy if inscrutable chorus, 'Tremolo my soul'. A call and response by Graham 'G', the band's only white member at the start of 'Old Rock'n'roll', the song featuring the eponymous lyrics of "White Men are Black Men too", seems a further gesture of irreverence to musical hegemony: Graham will sing two songs later on a moving, stripped back version of 'Low': "Did you see me planting seeds in the forest / Imma take a shit in your palace".
On the fully cathartic set-closer 'Shame', Alloysius' dancing reaches its most pronounced as he seems to echo some of the exorcising dance moves of the talented Joshua Hubbard on their brilliant 2015 video for the track. Sadly (for this reviewer), we aren’t treated to any displays of Alloysius' beautifully sculpted body, which, in a controversial video from last Summer commissioned by the National Gallery of Edinburgh and London, was seen shadow-boxing the Scottish cannon of portraiture, set to lyrics regarding representation, memorialisation and privilege. The huge backlash that the video received, mostly centring on the fact that black history was not a part of Scottish history, seemed to miss the point that his video was more about the affective experience of living as black and Scottish, amidst such monuments to 'civilisation'.
We may been denied the Leith (and other) congregational choir(s), who performed with Young Fathers on their soundtrack to Trainspotting 2 and live in Scotland, but it matters not. Do believe the hype, Young Fathers are definitely one of the fiercest, exciting live acts performing today.