Hearing Vulfpeck is like stepping into one of those lifts that plays funky music while you wait, except the music is performed live, and the lift is going to space. On their second night at the fully packed O2 Academy in Brixton the Michigan-based funk outfit and their loyal fans – the vulfpack – well and truly brought the funk to London.
Kicking off with ‘Tee Time’, a punchy song with video-game-esque synths and a rapidly climbing tension, they drag the song out, bringing each member of the band forward in musical introduction. There’s an electric confidence to each band-member, something which was no doubt sculpted during their years together at music school. ‘Animal Spirits’ follows, with its frantic and intricate organ riffs and catchy lyrics, the crowd sporadically singing along to the more memorable hooks as and when they appear.
‘Daddy, He’s Got a Tesla’ follows, built on a fast-paced bassline, screechy saxophone and a strange but comical Mozart reference as its main hook. It gives the band further opportunity to take turns in the limelight, displaying their command over their craft as multi-instrumentalists, all naturals in front of the packed-out auditorium. Support act and long-term friend of the band, Joey Dosik returns to the stage, this time on saxophone (yet another multi-instrumentalist) to inject some punchy brass into the band’s performance.
A live debut of ‘Hero Town’ from the group’s 2017 record ‘Mr. Finish Line’ delivers some groovy saxophone work from the brass section and some liquid gold bass from Joe Dart’s magic fingers. The lack of vocals here isn’t really an issue; the band are working their instruments hard enough, but they do say you can’t have too much of a good thing and, before long, Antwaun Stanley appears to enforce this point.
Stanley’s powerful and excited vocals aren’t wasted, even on the songs as silly as ‘Funky Duck’, effortlessly flipping between silky falsettos and gravelly basslines he blurs the boundary between vocalist and instrumentalist. The strange narratives and comical, complex mythology of the band come to life on stage; band leader Jack Stratton’s golden radio-voice delivering commercial-esque narratives and intermission pieces between songs. Paired with the super-stylised and somewhat juvenile outfits donned by the band (namely Jack Stratton’s signature ‘soccer’ kit), this can make for a slightly surreal experience.
Jack Stratton takes an opportunity to once again do crowd interaction right, splitting the audience into three sections for a multi-layered harmony in fan-favourite ‘Back Pocket’. This was just a warm-up for the already excited crowd, however, as the band decide that the 5th October isn’t too early for a Christmas song, launching into their festive number ‘Christmas in L.A.’ One fan gets a little more involved than the rest, however, managing to snag himself an invite to play ‘Dean Town’ with the band, and his performance doesn’t disappoint, the crowd goes nuts for this mystery fan – making certain he won’t forget this night in a hurry.
A very brief encore is broken by a hushed acapella of ‘Birds of a Feather’, Antwaun Stanley returning on the stage and layering his delightful vocals with the whistles and funky riffs, creating a veritable trifle of musical goodness. The band finish on ‘It Gets Funkier’, but not before all returning to the stage with beaming grins, bowing as if in a pantomime – a fitting send-off for a show brimming with entertainment, surprises and pure unadulterated funk.
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