Much has been made of Tom Misch, the young Londoner who cross breeds infectious blues guitar riffs with hip-hop rhythms to create the soothing Afro-chill-sound mastered on last year’s album Beat Tape 2. His sixth form good looks alone should be enough to warrant a ticket to his first Manchester live show at Gorilla. There is however an underlying ‘niceness’ to Misch’s music comparable to someone like Ed Sheeran – not that this is anything to spit at the floor about, but there is an almost hazardous level of underage girls in attendance tonight and one cannot help but worry that Misch could end up playing it somewhat safe if he so chooses.
As he does on the album, Misch opens with the guitar-gasm hair-raiser ‘The Journey’, but unlike on the record a violinist messes incongruously with a loop pedal whilst the singer pulls all sorts of faces through his sphincter-gripping solo. The jazzier surprise of it sets the standard for the night and thankfully, Tom keeps his feet firmly in the blues elements of his music throughout.
Following up with the mellow funk of ‘Colours of Freedom’ and ‘Wake Up This Day’, one thing is made clear — Misch adores his guitar. The tone on his Strat is as clean as his note-hitting, his moments of flourish feeling as good for the audience as they do his flashing fingers. At times it seems he has less confidence in his actual voice than that of his instrument, especially on softies like ‘Sunshine’, but when you can rip a blues scale apart like this guy it matters not. Any fears of a somewhat safe set are dispersed without further notice and Misch continues to trump himself solo after sweet solo.
The success of tonight lies with Misch’s faith in organic instrumentation. The small Gorilla staging is as tight as the band inhabiting it; every musician takes at least one cue to improvise seamlessly, providing the crowd with a fireworks display of soulful sounds and mouth-gaping moments. At times it’s jazzier than Jools Holland’s wet dream and at no point does the band seem to struggle. If anything, the worst chord of the night is the cacophony of screams that invariably meet the singer’s grins and winks between songs. But he has earned this level of arousal has young Tom. In dressing his bedroom production in a roots-ier outfit Misch has smashed his live task and made his poppy Sunday-afternoon-chill songs glow with all sorts of new colours.
The singer pulls a string of features to give us even more talent to chew on. The featherweight lilting of Carmody compliments his East London crooning gorgeously in one instance. Meanwhile the presence of Zac Abel for the pair’s first ever live performance of the banger ‘Beautiful Escape’ is worthy of all the Snapchat story views it will inevitably get. The absence of artists like Loyle Carner and Jordan Rakei sadly does mean some of the best songs get neglected. This is made up for entirely however when Tom’s sister Laura takes to the stage for a blistering saxophone display at the end of the night on ‘Follow’, a showstopping moment made sweet by the chemistry and affection displayed by the siblings.
The highlight of the night without a doubt though is a twelve minute mash-up of instrumentals described by the singer himself as a “sort of medley of 90’s hip-hop”. Introduced with a nod to the J.Dilla influence on his music, Tom tears off pieces of tunes like ‘Come Back’ and ‘Hark’ to remind everyone of the lounge-y beats and keys that power his production style. One cannot help but get lost in the smoothness of it all. Above everything, the jazziness of the delivery adds clarity to what it is that links the traditional black genres Misch borrows from, something not every artist can do.
What is most evident and most satisfying though is the challenge Misch sets himself. Not just in the free flowing hip-hop homage, but throughout the set the young man resists complacency to reveal the depth of his talent. In 2016, a year that seems to be intent on reviving ways of old for arguably wrong reasons, nothing is more comforting than hearing so many cheers for something as outdated as a guitar solo.
Some songs certainly deserved inclusion, particularly Carmody feature ‘Wander With Me’ which is disappointingly absent, but between a cover of Patrick Wilson’s ‘Man Like You’ and exhibiting a brand new song, it is understandable that he tries to make room for new ideas. With more space and more time – both of which it is hard to imagine won’t come to him eventually – Misch’s live set could one day be a life affirming experience for many people.
If you are someone who gets excited about the blues, jazz, modern soul, hip-hop or chiselled blonde bombshells, Tom Misch has a song to perform for you. When he almost certainly appears at a festival near you next summer, do not miss it.