Santos Party House
Tuesday, June 5
Better than: Watching American Idol.
Labrinth has a bit of a foul mouth. It’s jarring—his boyish looks and feel-good pop tunes don’t betray any sort of edge, but the rising U.K. singer/producer dropped a healthy amount of F-bombs last night at Santos Party House, home of his first show on American shores. “When you’re performing live, shit fucks up,” he explained midway through his set after struggling with a mini-Korg. “There’s been a lot of shit fucking up tonight, but when shit fucks up you’ve always got your guitar to lean on.” Earlier that evening when he first lifted his bright silver six-string during his dubstep-y rendition of “Express Yourself,” Labrinth offered another perspective: “Do you mind if I kick it old school, Santos?” he asked—genuinely—before shredding over the classic James Brown tune.
These fuzzy intersections between “then” and “now” are where Labrinth shines. He’s a musician’s musician in an electronic age, and reconciles the two sides of the spectrum by blending grinding synths and vocoded hooks with singer/songwriter sensibilities and R&B-folk lyrics. He’s the first artist in six years to sign with Simon Cowell’s Syco imprint without being on one of his talent competitions, and it’s no surprise—Labrinth has a sugary likability and genuine knack for performing, the kind of personality that would gain a cult following on The X Factor and spark message-board riots were he voted off. Playing to an all-ages crowd (which contained about a dozen 16-year-olds and about 200 suits), Labrinth showcased tracks from his debut album Electronic Earth, landing somewhere between John Legend, Maroon 5 and Flo Rida. “We got the bass banging from here to Buckingham Palace!” he rapped on “Earthquake.” “Hey Simon, we’re fuckin’ ’em up!”
Despite the neon tint that colored most of his electronic material, lyrically and thematically Labrinth was a traditionalist. Songs like “Let The Sun Shine” and “Got Til It’s Gone” channeled past eras and showed glimpses of the songwriting that propelled longtime collaborator Tinie Tempah to stardom, while “Vultures” and “Sweet Riot” hinted at a darker side. “Fuck anyone that tries to hold you down!” he lamented before starting “Vultures,” a song about, presumably, people who try to hold others down. “This is my first U.S. show guys,” he then professed. “You all are taking my U.S. virginity!”
Labrinth has a Urkel-meets-Stefan charm and good enough sense for synth pop, but his onstage presence can flounder. He knows his weaknesses: “Hopefully I can let the music do the talking tonight,” he confessed. “I’m not too good at talking!” For the most part, the music spoke just fine.
Critical bias: I was wearing a Tribe Called Quest t-shirt.
Overheard: “I think those kids all came together. This was the only all-ages show they could find tonight.”
Random notebook dump: Most exciting moment of the show was the “Call Me Maybe” dubstep remix that was dropped within five minutes of me walking in, and wheeled up multiple times.