Live Review: Herbie Hancock

3 June 2019 | 1:00 pm | Christopher H James

"Hancock was compelled to sit back and marvel with wide eyes, later admitting to the audience that he had no idea how it was done."

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It took Hancock and bandmates a little time to gel, as they grappled with an ambitious opening overture. Their initial lack of connection was probably exacerbated by the arrangement of instruments and monitors, making it impossible to see each other for most of the gig. Hancock coaxed some cosmic – dare it be said, somewhat new age-y – tones from his Korg Kronos, but he was either feeling out some advanced theories on timing or just coming in a little late to begin with.

Hancock was easy to warm to though. He radiated enthusiasm yet was humble as he complimented Perth, its people and its food. Largely eschewing his early gentle style in favour of more aggressive chops, the septuagenarian was hemmed in by four sides of synths and grand piano so completely that when he tried to cross the stage to introduce the band he seemed uncertain how to get out.

But what a band! The venerated Vinnie Colaiuta was dynamic, expressive and masterful on drums, changing lanes with resourcefulness and unflustered authority. With a baffling technique and array of pedals, guitarist Lionel Loueke wheedled out flowing lines so supple and waggly they defied description, destroying misconceptions that there are no more worlds of tonality to discover on a six-string. Even Hancock was compelled to sit back and marvel with wide eyes, later admitting to the audience that he had no idea how it was done.

The crowd burst into applause at the first sign of the unmistakable, rhythmic riff of Cantaloupe Island, but true to the prevailing spirit of the night, the band declined the conventional easy route, instead reinventing the tune, taking it upside-down, inside-out and through the trapdoor backwards, eventually reaching some kind of unexpected nirvana – a feat not only of skill but exceptional mental agility.

Returning for the encore, bass player James Genus did what he does best, laying down the nagging, strong-fingered groove of Chameleon. It was a relatively straightforward, rhythm-heavy take, but an inspiring one, the exuberance on Hancock’s face perfectly matching his solo on shiny red keytar.