Comicoperando is a tribute to Robert Wyatt led by musicians who have worked with him over the years. The project began early last year and has featured the likes of Richard Sinclair and Gilad Atzmon, but there is a short tour this year with a sextet of Dagmar Krause (lead vocals), Annie Whitehead (trombone, backing vocals), Karen Mantler (Hammond B3, lead vocals, harmonica), Michel Delville (guitar, vocals), John Edwards (double bass, vocals) and Chris Cutler (drums). Given such talent brought together, it was disappointing that the Queen Elizabeth Hall was only about half full, around 450 people, at their London show last night (12 May 2011).
The band seemed unconfident, apologetic and occasionally under-rehearsed (Krause notably missed a couple of cues). However, by and large, their performance was rich, tight and strong, and their apologies unnecessary.
The real fireworks for me came from the rhythm section, Cutler’s fluid drumming and Edwards’ complex bass playing. Whitehead’s trombone was the dominant lead instrument, working well with Krause’s and Mantler’s vocals, although I felt Delville’s duet vocals on “Just as You Are” were weak.
Dagmar Krause, of course, has a very distinctive voice, and Robert Wyatt, of course, has a very distinctive voice, so it was a surprise how well Krause’s vocals suited Wyatt’s songs. Krause was powerful and strident on “Out of the Blue” and “Gloria Gloom”, but emotional and intimate on “Alifib”. Mantler’s light, delicate vocal style offered a nice contrast on pieces like “Life is Sheep” and “The United States of Amnesia”. However, sometimes the vocals did not cut through the music well enough for the lyrics to be distinguished, a shame when dealing with Wyatt’s work.
The set spanned Wyatt’s career. Highlights for me were the playing on “The British Road”, the power of “Out of the Blue” and, of course, getting to hear old favourites like “Sea Song”. The show was a tad short, but I resisted the temptation to call out for “The Song of Investment Capital Overseas” as an extra encore!
Set (not in this order):
September the Ninth (written by Robert Wyatt / Alfreda Benge) - vocals Krause
Alliance (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Mantler
Beware (Karen Mantler) - vocals Mantler & Krause
Gloria Gloom (Bill MacCormick / Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause
The British Road (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Mantler
Maryan (Robert Wyatt / Philip Catherine) - vocals Mantler & Krause
Just as You Are (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause & Delville
Life is Sheep (Karen Mantler) - vocals Mantler
Alifib (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause
Sea Song (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause
Little Red Riding Hood (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause & Mantler
Out of the Blue (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause
The United States of Amnesia (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Mantler
Memories (Hugh Hopper / Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause
encore: Soup Song (Brian Hopper / Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause & Mantler