Words by John Noblet, pics by Jonathan Morgan
With most Birmingham Review dispatches, I have some prior knowledge of whom I’m going to see and what the evening will entail. However before tonight’s gig I know very little about Har Mar Superstar.
I’ve heard the name, many years ago, but I can’t recall hearing any of his music. Those that have seen Har Mar before hint at him being somewhat shocking, so I avoid any contact with his music or videos prior to the gig – in order to maximise any potential surprise.
But before Har Mar Superstar we have Lizzo to contend with. She takes to the stage wearing black leggings, a short skirt, a blonde wig, a baseball cap with the word ‘grrl’ on it and a sweatshirt bearing the slogan ‘fuck nice’ (allow yourself a couple of seconds to roll the phrase ‘fuck nice’ around your brain, there’s more angles on it than you would think). Lizzo is joined on stage by Sophia Eris, who wears a matching baseball cap and takes her place behind a laptop at the back of the stage. There’s a couple of seconds’ preamble, then the speaker stacks explode with rumbling dubstep style bass and Lizzo‘s incredible rapping. By the end of the first song it’s clear she has everyone’s attention.
Put simply, Lizzo is a star rising rapidly. All her energies focused toward to the audience, utilising all she has to get her message across, she rarely puts a foot wrong up there – charming this shy crowd of Birmingham chin strokers to come closer to the stage and, you know, “make some motherfucking noise.”
And taking to the stage armed only with a backing track and some live backing vocals can be a bad move for many acts, however with Lizzo it seems like the correct choice, as not having any other musicians up there allows her all the more space to dance and perform.
And boy can Lizzo dance. At one point she claims “I invented twerking” and then proceeds to twerk the place to pieces, all eyes on her rotating arse. Her persona drips with classic Hip Hop attitude, balanced with cheek and self depreciation; bossing the crowd around one minute, and then mocking her own pushiness the next. This is Hip Hop at it’s thought provoking, booty shaking best – imaginative, compelling, passionate, bags of content, energy and intelligence; all the while never becoming too pretentious or clever. Lizzo, please get famous soon, Pop music needs you.
And Lizzo can sing, holding a pivotal role in Har Mar Superstar‘s backing band – who I now discover is a short, balding, rotund middle aged white man who can sing like a seventies Soul legend. The difference between Har Mar’s appearance and voice is the most shocking thing about the set to me, more shocking than his outrageous tasseled white leather jacket or his disturbing habit of whirling the mic around on the end of the lead (how is he so sure it isn’t going to fly off into the crowd and kill someone?).
I close my eyes as I’m pondering this, and sure enough I’m magically transported to somewhere in America about thirty five years ago, hearing some Soul Train hopeful put the world to rights with all his might.
Another thing about Har Mar Superstar is that he’s funny, hilarious in fact. He might be one of the few performers I’ve seen who could just as easily work in comedy as in music. He’s more than aware that his appearance is more or less the exact opposite of what someone in his position should look like, and instead of being ashamed of this he makes it a feature.
Like towards the end of the set, when he pulls off his shirt mid song to reveal a proud, pale, solid looking gut, glistening with sweat. It’s a move that elicits a few laughs and a few cheers, but he’s a well travelled showman and knows exactly when to use such antics to pull the crowd’s attention back in, never allowing the comedic elements to distract from the main body of the show.
However something is lacking from Har Mar‘s set that was present in Lizzo‘s, and that thing is urgency. Whilst it’s difficult to imagine Har Mar playing a boring set, I didn’t feel like he really gave it everything he had (“how can you tell that Johnny?” I hear you ask – I am critic, I have special powers that you don’t).
In my opinion, Soul and Funk works best when the energy and emotion levels are pushed to such frightening intensity that it makes the average Gospel church look reserved. We’re not quite there tonight.
Admittedly this isn’t helped by such a reserved audience, some of whom look like they probably last lost it on a dance floor during the millennium celebrations. But I can’t help but feel Har Mar might be in a bit of a mid career rut – comfortable enough, with no need to prove himself and no radical changes in sight; he’s done this so many times its second nature to him. I can sense an extra level of insanity in Har Mar Superstar that he’s currently keeping hidden.
But it’s hard to dislike a man who sings the last song of his set standing on his head. And more than a couple of times tonight I’ve caught myself grinning like a loon. We’ve all heard classic Soul more often than we can remember, on car radios, pub sound systems, and shop public address systems; but it’s rare to experience it with such an unashamedly positive attitude. I find myself wishing he’d made a record with Amy Winehouse, maybe he could of found some joy in that magnificently moody voice.
And maybe tonight wasn’t his most passionate performance, but there’s more than enough on show to see Har Mar Superstar is undoubtedly a force for good. I‘ll be interested to find out what his next move is.
For more on Har Mar Superstar, visit http://harmarsuperstar.com/
For more on Lizzo, visit http://lizzomusic.com/
For more gigs at the Hare & Hounds, visit http://hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk/event-listings
For more gigs from Birmingham Promoters, visit http://birminghampromoters.com/