Beardyman [Live Review – KOKO, London, 28/11/14]

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On the walk from Waterloo station to Camden, I passed at least three busking beatboxers. The faces were different, but the acts were the same – a combination of robot impressions, oppressively generic beats, and faithful and flawless impressions of a variety of non-percussive instruments. By the time KOKO’s dramatic facade came into view, the novelty of solo beatboxing had more than worn off; London was beginning to feel saturated by Beardyman wannabes.

Beardyman himself, however, has managed not only to fight his way to the top of the beatboxing heap, but also integrate additional elements into his act that transform it into something uniquely his own. While the guys with mics and PA systems that I passed in the street were as po-faced as the guards outside Buckingham Palace, Beardyman gleefully rips the piss out of anyone and anything – from the awkward process of on-the-fly soundchecking to Michael McIntyre, Beardyman’s favoured target for the evening following a recent social media spat. Then there’s the Beardytron5000 mkIII – a complex collection of iPads and assorted instruments that Beardyman uses to create, on the fly, any sound imaginable and deploy it as part of a fully improvised tune.

Explaining the exact order of proceedings in detail would take more time than the hour-and-a-half of carnage that a Beardyman show comprises. This wasn’t like a rock show, where you get brief moments of respite between the hits – this was a non-stop rampage through Beardyman’s innermost musical musings. From running commentary about bass feedback issues to educational garage, melodies reminiscent of Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello’s most memorable licks, 8-bit video game noises accompanied by a story about getting shitfaced in a forest, a song about “internal neck vaginas” (a less technical term for vocal folds), and a solo beatbox encore that not only crushed Beardyman’s busking peers in terms of technique but also included pointed digs at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a floor-shaking rendition of Shaggy classic Mr Boombastic, this show all but exploded at the seams with everything you could hope for from a man capable of producing an album an hour.

Although Beardyman has attracted the ire of all kinds of purists – be they musical, comedic, or beatbox-focussed – it’s worth bearing in mind that history doesn’t remember purists. It remembers pioneers.

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Posted on 01 December 2014

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