Purgatory is ruled by an unsmiling ticket-checker. Arriving at Capitol 15 minutes before Boo Seeka was due on stage, fate had me pinned.
‘You’re not on the list.’
‘Are you sure? There should be something for Pelican.’
‘No. You can’t go in.’
‘Do you mind if I stand aside and check with my editor? There must be some mistake.’
Silence. In the street outside, suburban girls and boys milled about, variously yelling and laughing. Some smoked. A dishevelled-looking woman, her deeply lined face caked with smeared makeup, asked various people for fifty cents. She had chosen the wrong crowd; millennials don’t carry cash. As she pleaded, the remnants of Halloween parties and hen’s nights littered Murray Street, their once-apparent distinctions now blurred. Perth was out.
On the other side of the red doors, a man dressed like Jesus lifted his robe and flashed his underwear. Gold Member was playing the opening set and had the crowd suitably frothing. As the music rose and fell with each swing of the doors, I received what I needed and approached my tickety friend. With a disdainful sneer and obvious displeasure at being overruled, she wordlessly held up the stamp and waited. Now successfully branded, I pushed through the doors. A shirtless man (not Jesus) yelled into the microphone and the crowd cheered; Gold Member had done its work.
Despite the uniformity of those outside in the street, Boo Seeka’s fans were mixed. Generally young, they also included some over-40s and at least two couples well into their sixties. Such a disparate group was unexpected and its motivating force difficult to discern. As I stood waiting for a drink, though, the answer presented itself. A man with an unbelievably hairy upper back, just below his right ear, bore the Triple J drum logo.
Billing itself as a ‘Sydney hip-hop-psych-soul project’, Boo Seeka (Ben Gumbleton and Sam Croft) is a ‘musical experiment’ that blends elements from each of these three genres. That’s not a bad summary, though it tends more to trip-hop than hip-hop, and has detours into dance on tracks such as ‘Gold Sail’ and ‘Calling Out’. The latter of these flirts with tropical house, perhaps a nod to Croft’s DJ-ing past, and the thought of the older couples getting down to Kygo proved diverting as I scanned the assembled humanity.
The lights dimmed and the now-enlarged crowd stilled itself in anticipation. With a bounce that set the tone for the rest of the show, Gumbleton and Croft emerged and began proceedings informally.
‘Hey Perth, how the fuck are ya?’
We were off. Opening with 2015’s ‘Fool’, a Triple J Unearthed hit, it was clear from the outset that Boo Seeka intended to make the most of the crowd’s energy. When not playing his guitar or singing, the singlet-bedecked Gumbleton leant back and bobbed, as though tethered by an invisible string running from his chest to an unseen puppeteer. Croft, despite his microphones, didn’t harmonise or sing a backing but mimed while busying himself on keys and electronic drums. Between these he pointed and yelled to the crowd, clearly enjoying the mutual affection.
This sentiment endured, with the two remarking several times on how grateful they were to have filled Capitol on a Saturday night.
‘It’s fuckin’ amazing, you guys are awesome’
During the third song, ‘Deception Bay’, Gumbleton tried to rouse the audience by yelling ‘1…2…3…’ just before his vocal entries. It was slightly incongruous for such a relaxed track, but the smoothness of his soulful voice corrected any anomaly.
That voice was, above anything else, the highlight of the entire performance. Many singers struggle to replicate on stage the quality of tone and control they manage to attain in the studio, but not Gumbleton. He hit almost every note perfectly and inhabited his phrases as though he lived in them. All this was more impressive for his displays of energy when not singing as he moved around the stage with alacrity and bounced. Always bouncing.
‘Never Too Soon’ was performed out of order, with ‘Humans’ played first. It was a strong opener, the meaty synth effects and backing vocals providing a solid foundation over which Gumbleton’s tenor floated melodiously. ‘Oh My’, a crowd favourite, came third. Croft brandished his drumsticks for this track, with the majority of the musical work left to pre-recordings. Despite the reliance on these, both Croft and Gumbleton were skilled enough as performers never to leave the impression that we were seeing a karaoke session with token gestures to musicianship. A demonstration of this came later, during ‘Calling Out’, the driving beat of which had the audience moving. After beginning the song at his own microphone, Gumbleton moved to Croft’s synth arrangement and continued singing while taking over the synth effects as Croft drummed. The effect of seeing Gumbleton deploying his own voice samples from the machine while himself singing live was a pleasant juxtaposition, and in its own way captured much of what Boo Seeka is about: skilful use of electronics by two people of musical talent.
After ‘Gold Sail’, itself probably timed to get the crowd enthused, the two left the stage in a display of the silly charade in which too many bands indulge. The audience, playing its part, chanted for another song. Encores are part of life in the concert hall. Audiences expect this ritual, and relish the catharsis of making noise after having sat in silence for at least an hour. At a gig where everyone dances and sings, an encore is unnecessary and unnatural. With the mandatory two minutes’ wait over, Boo Seeka returned to give the audience what it had waited for, ‘Turn Up Your Light’. Croft contributed vocals to the track (he does the ‘la la la la la la’ bit, in case you wondered), and the crowd eagerly let the music wash over it, bouncing all the while.
Boo Seeka has, apparently, a ritual. Before the final song, ‘Does This Last’, the females in the crowd were encouraged to a thigh embrace of the nearest male’s head. From here, resting on shoulders, they swayed and bobbed above the rest of the audience as at a music festival. The audience mostly complied (the couples in their sixties abstaining), and as suspended bodies twisted one way and then another, seemingly controlled by an invisible force, all floated on the airiness of the music. This performance was, curiously, the least controlled of the entire gig. Beginning with less polish than on the other songs, Boo Seeka nevertheless recovered to close the track and the set at the earlier calibre. The final track having been played, Gumbleton thanked the audience again and, swigging from his bottle, invited everyone to hang around and have a drink by the mixing desk. In a generally relaxed and benevolent mood, the crowd thinned as some moved to the merch table and others headed for the exit.
Boo Seeka’s ‘Never Too Soon’ tour was a satisfying way to spend a Saturday night. With catchy melodies and easily digested rhythms, the two met their apparent aim (besides sales) of giving the audience an escape to somewhere slightly otherworldly, a place where bouncing is mandatory. Fans would undoubtedly have been pleased; the performance itself was excellent, the energy of the two quite visible. The otherworldliness that is Boo Seeka’s strength, however, could at once be its weakness. Aside from Gumbleton’s voice, there isn’t a great deal to set the duo apart from the many other electronic/hip-hop crossover acts. The whole is at times less than the sum of its parts. None of this should detract, however, from the musical skill of both Gumbleton and Croft, nor should it detract from the quality of their gig. The best summary is this: if you can, see them live.
Words by Clinton Ducas