Connan Mockasin – Barbican Centre, UK (3rd November 2018)

The New Zealand-born psych-rock eccentric back in London with his latest weird and wonderful contribution to an increasingly barren musical landscape. Based on early comics Mockasin use to make 20 years ago, his new 5-part short film series and accompanying music introduces a creepy teacher-student relationship creating an absurdist and at times unsettling experiential with an already awkwardly-seated Barbican crowd torn between laughter and wince. In the performance, Mockasin plays the perverse crooning teacher, Mr. Bostyn, who falls for teenage student ‘Joseph Dobsyn’, under the pretence of being a girl ‘Josie’.

After hilariously cringing exchanges and moments of disconcerting tension, Mr. Bostyn boastfully journeys into nostalgia and recalls his band from yesteryear, the Jassbusters. Still infused with inherent discomfort, it’s a wide-eyed glimpse into the buzzing and sarcastic mind of an extravagant surrealist.

The opening song playing to the edged Barbican crowd is ‘Charlotte’s Thong’, rumoured to be a jocular nod to co-producer and friend Charlotte Gainsbourg, laying the foreshadow to the bizarre brilliance and floating transitions ahead. It’s not long before you become truly settled with this time-stalling groove. There’s a hazy and hypnotic undertone to the Jassbusters, but amongst the peculiarity is the smoothest and arguably the most levelled and ironically consistent set of songs to date. The gentle and nodding tones somewhat resemble early Fleetwood Mac moments blended with mellowed choral vocals which wouldn’t be too adrift alongside Arthur Russell’s cello gems.

His third and first album in five years, the man from Te Awanga subscribes to total unpredictability, and this melodrama certainly takes us beyond just an audio digest, supplementing with a serenade into the artist’s DIY slapstick visualisations. With past collaborations next to admired indie staples; including Radiohead, James Blake and MGMT, his revered and devoted fan base had a whetted appetite for these new directions – and no doubt fulfilled by his most solemn and performance-led show to date. Perhaps the biggest genius move by the maverick is the fact he’s opening for himself, spearheading not only the support act with the Jassbusters, but soon following to play as he says “all the hits”.

In these new offerings he’s replaced much of the more punchy and skewed pop riffs with a smoother play of delicate melodies and wondering guitar. As a result, the audience can’t help but watch in ore and admiration of a modern innovator at work. The performance warms gently into his big hitting crowd favourites, before confidently soothing out with the catchy ‘Lying has to stop’ from his side project with Soft Hair and Late of the Pier’s Sam Dust. From the comical parodies that are seemingly woven into his natural every day, to providing a huge sold-out masterclass of technically unfaltering music and pioneering showmanship – it’s impossible not to be drawn to the wizardry of Connan Mockasin and the Jassbusters.