Review: Matt Berry @ Sound Control 24.11.10
THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE VELVET ONION IN NOVEMBER 2010.
On his 2005 album, Opium, Matt Berry coined the phrase: All things digested have a similar hue. Rarely was this more in evidence than in the cozy surroundings of new-ish Manchester club and gig venue Sound Control as Berry and his band took to the small stage in the upstairs bar.
For those who have seen Berry live before, on the surface few things have changed for the current Witchazel tour. The short but sweet setlist was fueled by old favourites from Opium and Matt’s BBC comedy shows Snuffbox and AD/BC, interspersed with tracks from the current Witchazel project, as has been the case in Berry’s shows for some time.
But scratch the surface, and the show presented was shorn of many of the gimmicks that had, for better or worse, been such a vital part of previous tours. Yes, its true that the band arrived on stage in a variety of novelty hats, with guitarist Andy Vickery swapping a hat for a curly afro wig and a dangling penis-shaped tie between his legs. It is also fair to say that, on the whole, Berry’s stage persona was still firmly steeped in the dashing, caddish caricature which has been his main comedic stock-in-trade since the days of Darkplace.
Yet what was on offer here was far, far tighter than the fabulous yet chaotic and scatterbrained shows of years gone by. Berry’s new band, whilst no better or worse than his excellent former cohorts, is a much more serious affair – with Matt at the centre acting far more like the musician he likes to be, rather than the brash lampoon that many in the audience still seem to believe he really is. Though that said, the Berry they know and love is the one he calls upon to dispel any hecklers – with a pitch perfect Mancunian whine emerging from his lips when one particular punter won’t just shut up and watch a pro at work.
Opening with the title track from Witchazel, the band took us on a whirlwind tour of Berry’s works to date. Highlights included Berry picking up his acoustic guitar for a gentle rendition of Reach For The Ground, and an extended run-through of the Snuffbox theme which took in elements of its brass-tinged Geno Washington makeover Get Here In Time, as well a brief snatch of the progtastic Suicide Part IV (The Empty Room).
A surprisingly touching moment came via a beautiful take on Willow’s Song from cult movie The Wicker Man, performed in honour of its star Ingrid Pitt, who had died the night before. It may have been lost on much of the crowd, but those like your reviewer, who grew up on a diet of 60s and 70s horror (not to mention classic Doctor Who!), were somewhat surprised and oddly moved, not least because, much like his tribute to Ronnie Hazlehurst on his Autumn 2007 tour, this was Matt dropping the act entirely for a moment to pay tribute to someone he respected.
Following the obligatory run-through of Darkplace classic One Track Lover and a sultry rendition of recent track Woman, Berry and co left the stage only to return moments later with a funktastic cover of Superstar from the Lloyd Webber musical Jesus Christ Superstar. With little fanfare, Berry – who had repeatedly pointed his audience’s attention to his band members throughout the night – stuck a hand in the air to wave goodnight, bid his farewell and left the band on stage to provide an instrumental run-through of the Snuffbox tv theme.
It seemed oddly fitting: here is an extremely talented musician best known as a comedy caricature with a fruity voice. With the Witchhazel tour, Matt Berry seems to be shaking off the shackles of Todd Rivers, Dixon Bainbridge and the Snuffbox version of himself. No longer are his shows punctuated by lengthy comedic rants, though humour still plays its own part as it surely must with a comedic mind as great as his. The need to plug the gaps with three or four renditions of Snuffbox and a version of The IT Crowd theme are gone, as Berry’s musical scope has grown into something more organic and exciting.
This tour brings about the real birth of Matt Berry, the respectable musician – capable of crafting songs that sound as if they’ve fallen through a wormhole to the 1970s yet as fresh as a daisy, and with the live performance skills and a talented team of individuals around him to match. With the impending release proper of Witchazel, somehow I doubt we’ve seen the last of this new breed of Berry yet, and if you get a chance to see him, you’d be a damn fool to miss out.