Theo Parrish LIVE: The verdict

It’s been a decade since Detroit pioneer Theo Parrish performed live, so the Teddy’s Get Down event at the Barbican this weekend was rife with high expectations. The programme synopsis was, in all honesty, quite over-zealous – “the sound environments of Theo Parrish remould time and space around you” – subsequently, I think many people were in a bit of a quandary as to what the band (consisting of sax, drums, dancers and the impressive Amp Fiddler on keys) were about to showcase.

The first song ‘Top of the World (Too High)’ played to the taste of a traditional funk fan, followed by ‘Walking Through The Sky’, an ethereal number where Parrish warms up his vocals next to the sublime Ideeyah, a miniscule female vocalist that packs an unbelievable punch whilst controlling the delay pedal. Parrish is an absolute genius when it comes to making a 1 to 4 bar loop sound interesting for 15 minutes, weaving syncopated grooves into a sonically transforming melody. 

It was all very nice, but if I was to be critical, it felt safe and middle of the road…

…Then, it happened.

‘Chemistry’, the 2008 Sound Signature classic was played, making it the first real house-influenced, synth-laden track of the night. The whole of the Barbican leapt from their seats in what became the eruption of energy we were all waiting for. Parrish makes “music which is primarily, first and foremost, to be danced to”, so the atmosphere was probably what he was hoping for. Following this was ‘Soul Control’, the bleepy sexy number from Sound Sculptures Volume 1. By this point, the Barbican had completed its transformation into a temporary nightclub – a bizarre, unique, euphoric feeling, considering we were in one of the most refined arts venues in the world. 

Be prepared for moments of tranquility mid-performance though, with tracks such as ‘Ah’ and ‘Changes’ sounding a bit like intricate elevator music. But it’s nice to be given the option to sit back and watch Gehrik Mohr and his crew of dancers showing us “how to get down”. 

Completing the set was new single ‘Footwork’ from the much-anticipated American Intelligence LP, which was played (very quietly) in full prior to the performance over the sound system. The encore was an impressive cover of ‘Ain’t No Need’ by Skye, a rare disco classic, perfectly euphoric and fitting to end the night.

I entered the Barbican not really knowing what to expect – would I get disco? Funk? House? Electronica?  It was a combo of all the above. But the reality is, you don’t go to this gig purely for the music – you go for the experience. 

Like Parrish said on the night, “we are not doing this for you, we are doing it with you”.

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