Jake McPartland reviews Vulfpeck’s Vicar Street show.
‘We learned a lesson last year, never start a European tour with Dublin. Because every show after it will be a disappointment.’ These were the words of Vulfpeck’s Theo Katzman on the first evening of a sold out two-night stint in Vicar Street. It had been a year since the American funk group performed their first ever European show in that very same hall, a show which, as the audience was regularly assured, has played an important moment in their history.
If you are not yet familiar with Vulfpeck, they have been aptly described by fans as ‘Sly and the Family Stone meets Tim & Eric’. Humour rips through their music, as well as their technical and compositional skill. More than willing to subvert expectations, the band made headlines in 2014 with the release on Spotify of their silent album Sleepify. We saw in Vicar Street that these aspects carry over to their live performances too.
Humour rips through their music, as well as their technical and compositional skill.
Support on the night was brought by Joey Dosik, a solo songster, multi-instrumentalist, and long-time Vulf-collaborator. Dosik played a soulful and subdued set, that even included a sean nós piece. He was then joined in performance by three of the four core Vulfmen: bandleader and frontman Jack Stratton, keyboardist Woody Goss, and Katzman, who provided drums and falsetto harmonies that filled the venue.
With most of the band now on stage, it was expected that the show proper was about to begin. However, the crowd would have to wait another 20 minutes, and it must be said that this sapped some of room’s energy.
When they reemerged, the three members who had previously been seen had now changed into their stage outfits. Most notably, Stratton stormed the stage in football socks, Adidas shorts and a red nondescript soccer jersey (as on the cover for 2016’s The Beautiful Game). Bassist Joe Dart, the only member who had not yet been on stage, received a rapturous welcome from the crowd. Chants of ‘Joe, Joe, Joe’ took some time to die down before the band could start groovy set opener ‘Fugue State’.
The collaborators kept coming: after this tune, it was time to bring on the young funk guitarist Cory Wong. Dosik later returned to play some smooth saxophone lines, with the band playing in this configuration for two more songs, including the excellent ‘Animal Spirits’. After these, yet another regular contributor to Vulf Records was introduced: the soulful and dynamic Antwaun Stanley.
A little later, the band halted the music; some in the crowd were not too pleased about this. Stratton gave a ‘keynote speech’ on his patented (and farcical) ‘Fi Fye Foe Fum’ method of living, as well as a breathing exercise that got the room doing all sorts of weird stuff.
The band rejoined Stratton, this time in the guise of ‘Peckapella’ an a cappella Vulfpeck cover band who claimed to be doing their PhDs in the University of Limerick no less! Peckapella sang some of Vulfpeck’s arguably most popular song, ‘Back Pocket’, in a convincing barbershop quartet style.
For the funky carol, ‘Christmas in L.A.’, Katzman took to the crowd, surfing down to the very bottom of the room and back, not without visible exhaustion. Fan favourite, the instrumental ‘Dean Town’ closed out the main part of the set. After this Stratton came back to record the crowd’s rendition for Vulf social media.
Finally, the band reemerged for an encore. The song of choice was their latest release, the beautiful and melodic ‘Birds of a Feather, We Rock Together’, set to be the opener on the upcoming Mr Finish Line.
At last, with all the pageantry finished, Vulfpeck left the stage. They had performed a musically tight, wacky and endlessly fun set. Fortunately, it seems certain that they will be back soon to funk things up once again.