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Review: Puma Blue @ Thekla

Sipping red wine throughout the evening, Puma Blue brought his mystical blend of jazz, blues, and lo-fi post-punk to a near capacity Thekla. Sheltered from the March rain, we were brought into his world of slow-burners and cathartic climaxes.

By Jake Paterson, First Year English

Sipping red wine throughout the evening, Puma Blue brought his mystical blend of jazz, blues, and lo-fi post-punk to a near-capacity Thekla. Sheltered from the March rain, we were brought into his world of slow-burners and cathartic climaxes.

Having released his debut album ‘In Praise of Shadows’ in the midst of a global lockdown at the start of last year, this time of solitude and stillness made these tracks ultimately personal rather than shared. To release them to a room full of people all bringing their own direct experiences together is a power felt only by records that went through the same process.

The tracks performed from the album called to mind physical feeling: ‘Velvet Leaves’, ‘Cherish (furs)’, ‘Silk Print’. They emphasise the hazy distinction between the sonic exploration of the record and the physical feeling it produces. To close your eyes as part of the body that became the audience is to lose yourself to that physical touch.

Credit: Jake Paterson

With the previously arranged support acts falling ill during the European leg of the tour, Blue’s saxophonist and keyboardist Harvey Dweller stood up to produce a set of ebbs and flows - moving between solo sax drones commanding the audience into silence and hard house beats with strobe lights to get everybody moving. It was clearly experimental and most likely straight from his bedroom, singing along to the live samples mixed in and being attentive to picking out unwanted reverb on the bass amongst tens of layers of sound holding down waves of progression. It was a foreshadow of musicianship and attention to soundscape that was about to commence.

Transferring many of Puma Blue’s voice and drum machine-led tracks into a full band made for an expansive performance. Dweller’s sax was an absolute highlight, with the crowd at the back even specifically requesting sax solos. The crowd was split into three groups: diehards singing along to classics such as ‘(She’s) Just a Phase’, ‘Midnight Blue’ and ‘Moon Undah Water’, people that had come out with mates who watched in respectful silence, and people at the back competing with lead singer Jacob Allen with their conversation, destroying the vibe for tracks such as ‘Lust’ until the extended jam came in at the end and they had no choice but to pay attention.

The set seemed to miss nothing off from his discography, with cuts from 2017’s ‘Swum Baby’ such as ‘Want Me’, right to a new track, ‘Hounds’ with post-punk infused drive and a signal of a potential departure from the dreamy iPhone ballads that made him his name.

On his feature-length music film ‘A Late Night Special’, many of his older tracks were reworked to fit the more luxurious sound of his new material. This was most notable in his performance of ‘Only Trying 2 Tell U’, the closing track and his oldest song. To listen to the 2015 demo on Bandcamp and then to hear this production was breathtaking, and showed the growth and redevelopment of his art.

Frequently throughout, Allen asked for the lighting to be lighter or darker as the songs were about to start, clearly signalling his knowledge of how best his art can be communicated and in layering an atmosphere to place all attention on the music. Allen spent the large majority of the set with his eyes closed, owing to feeling and emotion through his performance.

To open the encore, Allen came out alone to play ‘Silk Print’, his ode to Jeff Buckley. It stilled the once clamorous voices, such that the sound of someone winding film into their camera in front of me was audible.

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The only faults were perhaps the ordering of tracks, with ‘Oil Slick’, ‘Bruise Cruise’ and ‘Moon Undah Water’ coming almost one after the other when they all follow a similar stylistic pattern of catharsis after tension. The impact then of ‘Moon Undah Water’, my favourite track of his which I discovered in 2018, was slightly lost despite the energy of the crowd and performers remaining high.

To think of the future for Puma Blue now is to either push forwards with the precision and style of ‘A Late Night Special’, or to find a new direction and structure to differentiate from the slow build and to really push for true consistency in his next project. Then we could easily see him step into either leading the London jazz scene or finding a place in the realm of rock currently inhabited by the likes of King Krule.

Featured image: Jake Paterson

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