Words by John Noblet / Pics by Jonathan Morgan
Anticipation and the smell of hipster hang heavy in the air tonight. The Hare & Hounds is rammed with people staring expectantly at the stage whilst a man in a stripy jumper plays bass heavy, cool guy House music with impeccable taste. There’s some activity on the stage; you can just about make out a few anonymous looking human shapes up there through the fog. One of them could be Connan Mockasin himself for all we know.
It becomes apparent that the show has started when a voice asks us “are you having a good time?” The owner of the voice cannot be seen on stage, and the voice has some kind of weird, sub Darth Vader effect on it. Someone shouts back “Yes” but the voice repeats the question a few times more, seemingly for no reason.
The awkward looking humans on the stage are now making music, locking into a slow discotheque groove with decidedly sinister undertones. It seems to go on for the longest time, finally slowing to a complete halt. At the last second Connan Mockasin appears onstage and everybody claps – this audience seem very keen to applaud.
Connan Mockasin is carrying a bottle of red wine and has the slightly smug, confident air of a man who’s just won his ninth Oscar. He seems to have selected his outfit at random from a village jumble sale, wearing an odd straw coloured sun hat and a leather jacket that must have been made for an eight year old. It is now obvious to everyone in the room that Connan Mockasin is a very cool guy.
The first song starts and has a similar feel to the opening piece, except this time there’s vocals. In fact pretty much the whole set follows the same formula – sparse, down tempo backing with a subtle Funk feel, decorated by unsettling shards of melody from either Mockasin‘s guitar or his strange, eerie vocals.
The most obvious musical reference point is French chill out sophisticates Air in their darker moments, but there’s a seductive creepiness to the music being made tonight that I haven’t really heard anywhere else. I particularly like the guy’s guitar playing – I mention this not because I think it’s essential to have a great guitar player in a band, it’s just I’ve played guitar myself for over twenty years and now it’s very rare that I like anyone’s guitar playing. Connan Mockasin plays in a manner half way between someone who’s just picked up the instrument, not knowing what key the song is in, and someone who’s studied for years and years to play exactly the right note in the right place. He’s off kilter yet perfectly in sync at the same time.
In the between song breaks Mr Mockasin reveals himself to be a genial, humourous host – my personal favourite stage banter includes the announcement “this song is the title track off the new album. It’s called ‘title track’…” and a long conversation with a man with a very broad Black Country accent named Alan. His eccentric stage persona reminds me a little of Beck, though in comparison he looks a lot more comfortable up there than Beck ever did.
Tonight, Connan Mockasin demonstrates the total self belief necessary to be successful front man. It has been said that to know whether or not you are a leader, you should just look over your shoulder and if people are following you, you are a leader. Connan Mockasin has the air of a man that decided spontaneously to climb a mountain one day, then was pleasantly surprised to turn around half way up and find the whole village was following him. It’s not difficult to imagine him on much bigger stages than this, say charming the pants off a well to do crowd at a boutique festival somewhere.
The last number in the set is ‘Forever Dolphin Love’ from the first album. It conjures up the same calm but doomed beauty as the rest of the set, with its selection of tempo changes and killer hook that won’t leave me alone nearly eighteen hours later.
I don’t know if it’s because every piece I’ve read about Connan Mockasin references the fact he’s from New Zealand, or the surfy twang to the guitar sound, but something tonight has me thinking of the sea.
Maybe it’s the duality of so many sea side locations – on the one hand you have fun, holidays, attractive scenery and relaxation. On the other hand, you have isolation, off season depression, risky sexual behaviour and the fact that the ocean can swallow up a living breathing human any time it wants to. The music made tonight veers towards the latter.
The final tune twists and turns to its climax. A few of us jig about a bit, the rhythm’s danceable but it doesn’t seem like anyone else is game. Its clear there will be no encores. We clap and clap and clap, and then we all obediently file back out into the night.
For more on Connan Mockasin, visit https://www.facebook.com/connanmockasin
For further gig listings at the Hare & Hounds (Kings Heath), visit http://hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk