Bill Laurance at The Sugar Club – Review
Perhaps best known as one of the core members of Brooklyn instrumental supergroup Snarky Puppy, Bill Laurance has ventured on his own musical journey, now touring his second album, Swift. The virtuoso has proven himself a more than competent composer, and brings with him an impressive six piece band, featuring a trio of strings and even a french horn. With an album full of beautiful piano based instrumental compositions, the crowd at The Sugar Club are out in strong numbers for the man.
Laurance kicks things off with a gorgeous keys intro, before the orchestral grandness of the strings rise through the mix in a rather epic fashion. ‘Neverending City’ is instantly recognisable, and boasts a dreamy vocoder melody over some smooth yet filthy bass and of course the understated but beautiful keys work. Laurance’s touch is simply ethereal. He is restrained in the main section and then lets loose for a powerful solo of the utmost delicacy in the final section. This leads into the hauntingly beautiful ‘December in New York’, featuring a classical sounding main motif, with effortless trills and a staggeringly emotional alternate section.
As the set progresses, the awe for the man increases exponentially. Every tune seems to evoke the best possible reaction from the crowd, who according to Bill, are “Definitely the best” he has ever played to. It’s easy to see why there is such a positive reaction, as he continues with the short but sweet ‘The Isles’. Almost Radiohead sounding in its harmony, the pleasant lull of this track is contrasted starkly by ‘Smoker’s Castle’, his ode to his university back in the UK. This tune could have been played by the specials back in the golden days of ska, with the whole crowd jerking forward and backwards to the tasty offbeat rhythms.
After a short break, things are taken up a few notches with ‘Swag Times’, perhaps his best known track. The ethereal synthesised tone of the keys goes perfectly with the funky baseline and powerful refrain of the string section. The restrained atmosphere at this point is completely gone, with people standing up and cheering in delight after any particularly tasty solos or riffs. ‘Red Sand’ boasts the best solo of the night, with a very ‘Arabian Nights’ feel, while ‘Gold Coast’ is a sweet track that really showcases Laurance’s piano skills in a more traditional sense.The final track of the set is the immense ‘Money In The Desert’. The crowd go wild for the unforgettable strings intro, carried away by the swaggering drums, modulated synth sounds and slick bass work.
Bill very quickly returns to the stage, much to the crowd’s delight, before playing an entirely improvised section by himself, which leads into the irresistible ‘Ready Wednsday’, now rejoined by the full band. The classical piano played at a furiously fast tempo is heightened in grandeur by the blasting drums and ever funky bass. Seats are emptied, as the crowd push their way to the front of the stage, dancing, singing, even head-banging. Laurance cracks a wry smile, while his hands seem possessed by some otherworldly force. The crowd passionately sing the refrain of the string section back to the band, before the energy begins to wind down to a sombre and lonely piano section to end the gig.
After a performance of this calibre, it’s impossible not to feel somewhat inspired by this wonderful music. You could sit around all day trying to pen it to one genre, but to be honest, this music has no boundaries. It escapes any tags of genre, and can and should be enjoyed by anyone, not just classical, electronic or RnB buffs. Bill Laurance’s compositions are simply a love letter to anyone who loves music.
Review by Finn O’Reilly