The Invisible review – funky craftsmen weave intricate party music

Soup Kitchen, Manchester
The 2009 Mercury nominees put on their party hats and shirts for a joyous gig of sublime guitar riffs that transports the crowd to clubland

“Manchester! How are you doing?” asks the Invisible’s Dave Okumu. “It’s so cool to be back in this beautiful venue.” Eye of the beholder and all that, but beautiful isn’t the most obvious word to describe a shabby chic basement in which a urinal has been converted to a sink. Still, Okumu is entitled to see glory where it’s least expected. Four years ago, while grieving the death of his mother, the frontman received an electric shock on stage. His life was saved when bassist Tom Herbert removed the singer’s guitar from his hands – at which point Okumu fell and broke his leg. The subsequent album, Rispah, was appropriately melancholy. However, the recent, acclaimed Patience reflects the singer’s ongoing “gratitude for being alive” and “the joy of life”.

The gig feels like that, too. It’s hard not to warm to Okumu – a huge man in a Michael Jackson T-shirt, blue panama hat and what looks like a lecturer’s old gown – as he smiles while singing and produces the array of guitar noises that contribute to the London trio’s unique sound. A huge one for a three-piece, it somehow fuses afrobeat, R&B, 80s clubby pop, Hot Chip, avant garde effects and post-punk basslines.

Funky grooves underpin everything they do, but this is something more intricate and intangible than straight-up party music. K Town Sunset plays a sublime rotating guitar riff against a wash of noise. Monster’s Waltz brews up an electric storm, but then edges towards avant jazz. With the bearded Herbert in a Hawaiian shirt and superb drummer Leo Taylor unleashing adventurous but metronomic rhythms with his eyes closed, they’re not a conventional live spectacle, but there’s visual appeal in watching musical craftsmen who demonstrably love their work.

The 2009 Mercury nominees have had an impact on the mainstream – Okumu produced Jessie Ware and band members play on Adele albums – but they themselves remain in what their friend Paloma Faith calls “credible obscurity”. With Okumu thoughtfully singing the choruses (on Patience, some of them are delivered by Ware and Anna Calvi) perhaps the Invisible are that bit too demanding or esoteric, occasionally dry, for mass consumption.

Dave Okumu, Leo Taylor and Tom Herbert of the Invisible
Unconventional live spectacle … (from left to right) Dave Okumu, Leo Taylor and Tom Herbert of the Invisible. Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

However, when their sound takes on pop songwriting, they surely have something for everybody. The last 20 minutes hit another gear as Believe in Yourself feels transportive and transcendent, Okumu repeating the title like a hypnotic mantra. The more darkly beautiful Memories is driven by Joy Division basslines and A Certain Ratio’s hymnal funk. Oceans of Purple, Okumu’s heartfelt Prince tribute, finds him joyously emulating the late star’s fantastical guitar soloing.

With Herbert flitting between bass and electronics, London Girl – from their 2009 debut – is reworked into a triumphant percussive extravaganza that sounds like an aural tour of historic clubland, with homages to New York’s Danceteria and Manchester’s own Hacienda in their prime. If they can don those party hats more often but somehow retain their uniqueness, the Invisible will be unstoppable.

• At Oslo, London, on 28 September. Box office: 020-3553 4831. Then touring.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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