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Review: Puma Blue @ Thekla

Trying to bring a record focussed so heavily on themes of death and grief to life for an audience literally floating on the water in Thekla’s cargo hold, Puma Blue’s eternal and effortless style captivated the crowd again and again.

By Jake Paterson, Music Editor

Most of Puma Blue’s discography feels like being submerged in water. The moments he offers you through his music sit alongside something like a contemplative dusk, sitting between light and dark, hope and despair. His new record, Holy Waters, cuts deeper than anything he’s released before, and the pairing of bedroom tracks that are nearly ten years old with captivating new sonic landscapes made a show both beautiful and pulsating.

He continued the tradition of relying on physical sensations for the performance. Lead singer Jacob Allen performs with his eyes entirely shut for the whole duration whilst he is singing, taking little peeks now and again, which creates a space for the audience to be themselves and dance or shift around free of embarrassment. They can cry, hold a loved one, or smile, owning the moment for themselves and be transported to wherever the song took them last.

With the first signs of Winter approaching, there was instant comfort in hearing the band open with new track ‘Falling Down’, that had a James Blake quality to it, and old tune ‘Soft Porn’, performed famously for Colours Studio in Berlin. The track’s bedroom feel, with nothing but a drum machine and guitar line was expanded for the full band to bring a new catharsis to the song.

Puma Blue @ Thekla | Jake Paterson

Harvey Grant, the band’s long-time saxophonist and keyboard player, was emphatic and crucial to the performance throughout. For the outro of ‘Lust’ he was a man possessed by some religious spirit, screaming through the sax with abandon. The crowd lapped it up and every time he reached over to lift the horn to his mouth their ears perked up a little in anticipation.

We were then treated to a stretch dedicated to the new record, Holy Waters. ‘Too Much, Too Much’ left little impression because it was overshadowed by the awe of ‘Gates (Wait for Me)’ and ‘Holy Waters’. The record was built much around long periods of improvisation and you can tell as soon as they kick into a groove that there’s a pocket that could be looped for hours to everyone’s delight. “Gotta let some demons out sometimes” Jacob said on the captivating outro to ‘Holy Waters’.

The Holy Waters passage was punctuated by the only track played off of the debut record In Praise of Shadows, ‘Oil Slick’. Rife with post-punk noise and rnb groove, it was received well, but was lost as the song structure of slow build up to huge bridge was a little on the expected side at this point. The set occasionally lulled a little for lack of real variation, and the question of playing some of the slower songs on a standalone platform where they would have shined could have been a way through.

The crowd, however, were not complaining. The amount of heads rocking to the beat of the jams was huge, you felt almost at times like jumping or pulling closer to someone to engage more in the performance, yet are held back by an unnamed force that roots you to the spot.

Puma Blue @ Thekla | Jake Paterson

It’s this slight incompleteness that has made Puma Blue such a cult artist. It would have been so easy to jump into a King Krule-esque pocket of making mosh-able tracks or leaning the other way and making a full sensual album, but he tows the line between them staying true to himself and maintaining a loyal fanbase.

After a heart wrenching rendition of ‘Dream Of You’, a moment of reprieve from the energetic set, we were plunged into well-known territory, being welcomed back home by the pure sex of ‘Want Me’ and ‘Midnight Blue’.

Crashing through ‘Bruise Cruise’ and ‘Moon Undah Water’ with full throttle (I was particularly glad to hear Jacob scream on the bridge of the former track), we were pulled into ‘(She’s) Just a Phase’ rendered as a gentle lullaby. Singing the opening verse at a tantalising and beautiful slow whisper, the band eventually joined Jacob to close out to mass applause.

Puma Blue is certainly not without firepower despite the themes of his new record, and seems to continue to be a mainstay in the UK underground. Here’s to a third Thekla show in three years.

Featured Image: Jake Paterson

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