Review: Neneh Cherry with RocketNumberNine – Twisted Pepper, Dublin, 28.02.14
Words: Gary Hannon
This was going to be some gig! We hit the Ring Road at 5.30, with the gig not on until 8 in Dublin. Loads of time. Fast forward an hour, and it’s 6.30 – and we’re just leaving the Jack Lynch, after a car broke down in the tunnel. That would have been some gig! We put the pedal to the proverbial metal, and arrived, stressed and sweating at Twisted Pepper at 9 o’clock. After enquiring how much we’d missed, we were told she wasn’t coming on till half 9. Score!
This was a glimpse of the future of live electronic dance music – one singer, improvising around loose, emotional lyrics; one drummer; and one guy playing synths/hardware/effects. Her new album is co-written with her husband, and performed with the duo RocketNumberNine. The music spanned the genre of dance music: starting off with slow hip-hop, going through fast electro, to techno. The small ground-level hall was rammed-pack, with a sold-out crowd of just under 300 eager, enthusiastic fans.
This was the first time Neneh had played Ireland in God knows how long. Her opening track was the rather fitting ‘Across the Water’. This featured slow, minimal hip-hop beats with weaving vocals around them. Next up was one of the standout tracks from her new album, the title track ‘Blank Project’. It’s a belter! It sounds like a Thom Yorke/Atoms for Peace production, and it flies along at a drum n’ bass tempo. It deals with the complexity of relationships, with lyrics ending in “I love you! I hate you! … I love it all! This really got the crowd bouncing.
She had some stage presence! She was really comfortable, and she bounced and danced all over the small stage, unplugging two keyboards in the process. “So professional!” she joked. One of the biggest cheers of the night came when she announced, “I’m 50 in ten day’s time! I’m a granny! I’m in Dublin! And I’m happy!”
Her between-song banter was relaxed and telling: “This album saved my life!” You could tell that she was delighted to be in the spotlight again. She stated in interviews that she was surprised at the success of the album. Her previous album, co-produced with The Thing, The Cherry Thing was excellent, but being an album of free jazz covers of popular-ish songs, it was never going to be a massive hit. This album never quite reaches the perfection of ‘Dream Baby Dream’, (a Suicide cover on The Cherry Thing), but has some great moments, which were stretched out and extended during the gig, such as on ‘Weightless’ and ‘Naked’. The single from the album, ‘Out of the Black’, was also extended and turned into full-on techno. She finished with ‘Dossier’, thereby loosely following the running order of the album.
All that was left was to finish with an encore of her 1988 hit ‘Buffalo Stance’. Again, this song was reinterpreted, this time into an electro-clash stomper. Improvisation is in her bones and this has kept her “fresh”. “No moneyman can win my love. It’s sweetness that I’m thinking of”. This philosophy seems to have worked out just fine for Neneh Cherry.