Review & Photos: Gentleman - MTV Unplugged Tour in Hamburg, Germany 2015
04/14/2015 by Gardy Stein
MTV Unplugged Tour in Hamburg, Germany
@ Alsterdorfer Sporthalle - April 11th 2015
"Unplugged means to play on real instruments, real bass, real drums, real strings, instead of just pressing some buttons." Gentleman explains to the 3.100 people who had come to experience the Hamburg stop of his MTV-Unplugged-Tour cruising through Germany at the moment. In times where digital recording and auto-tuning is the norm, an analogue delivery such as the Unplugged project is an exceptional feat. The more so when we're not talking about 3, 4 or 6 musicians, but up to 18!!!
To find a stage that can hold all these is a challenge in itself; within the Alsterdorfer Sporthalle, both musicians and audience could be comfortably hosted. The stage-setup alone is amazing. Flanked by Giuseppe Coppola on drums (far left) and Denver Smith on percussions (far right) with bass-player Odi between them, the string section and the horn section (including Johanna and legendary saxophone-player Dean Fraser) frame the three background queens Treesha, Tamika and Sherieta. Further up front to the left there are the two keyboarders Polle (on Hammond) and Toni (on Rhodes), while the right is occupied by guitarists Tobi and Stahl (who have an incredible array of 6 different guitars to choose from!). A special eye-catcher are the carpets and the old-fashioned lamps, shedding a warm light and allowing for a glimpse of the cozy living-room-feeling that is evident in the MTV Unplugged DVD.
A few minutes after 8pm, this whole set-up is illuminated by carefully arranged lights and the evening takes off with a medley of Journey and Different Places. After this, Gentleman welcomes the people with a hearty "Hamburg, it's nice to be back here!" and gives the audience ample opportunity to clap and cheer (damn, that's loud!).
Changes and Intoxication pass and the creator of these timeless tunes sits down for some slow vibes which are to follow. Hundreds of arms swaying, the mood is nice and relaxed until this little ball of energy enters stage: Martin Jondo! His Rainbow Warrior sees a little contest ("Hey Jondo, I bet my side is louder than your side!") that even includes band members and security. It is exactly these instances of direct interaction with musicians and crowd that make this concert a special experience. Gentleman succeeds in making everyone feel part of a unique show; it seems that many of the jokes and actions on stage are really spontaneous, up to the point that the band has difficulties improvising. During Solidarity, for instance, Gentleman's mobile clip fell off and he freestyles: "Ich brauch ne neue Klemme, neue Klemme!" ("I need a new clip...") in the chorus until stage-hand Nikola saves him.
Back in the program, Rainy Days sees a formidable solo of trumpeter Hopeton Lewis and then Gentleman takes Tamika's hand and leads her to the front of the stage, where she sings the sweet love song What You Are. In the course of the show, the other two background singers get their spot as well. Treesha, who has a solo album about to be released, is speeding up things after a calm set of Send A Prayer, It No Pretty and Tranquility with her own piece Down Music Lane while Sherieta delivers some heartfelt soul in Finally, getting a big forward for her excellent vocals.
Introducing "a talented young artist", Gentleman calls on stage Clay, the youngest protégé of local sound & producers Silly Walks. He sings three tracks, impressing the audience with his clear and pleasant voice. The waving and clapping is back, and now people add jumping to it as well.
When Warn Dem starts, I really regret that Shaggy is not part of the crew. Their duet on the MTV Unplugged DVD is one of my favourites! Well, the mood is not impaired by his absence, and drum and bass play a fine solo during the missing vocals. After applause for that piece subsides, Gentleman comes with some reasoning, and I'll try to repeat word by word what he said because he's so right: "Hamburg, at this point I have to say Thank You for not holding up your smartphones. It is so strange nowadays that people try to record everything digitally instead of just feeling the moment! I mean, I don't mind you taking a picture now and then, but to stand there motionless in the crowd the whole time is just killing the vibe! Imagine the pressure that puts on us musicians too, every little mistake is recorded and retrievable. Back in the days, there was just the here and now, the space and the time that we shared..." This little speech is rewarded with a huge forward and indeed the few mobiles that were still up disappear. Nice!
Before the show goes on with celebrated songs like Runaway and To The Top, the singer takes his time to introduce every single band member and asks us to "give it up for these amazing musicians!". Respect! During the a cappella delivery of New Day Dawn, all musicians except drums and percussions (who accompany the piece) wave their towels. Another amazing moment is the jumping action in Leave Us Alone, which is instantly pulled up because virtually everyone present joins in. The massive claps for several minutes in beat with the music, and Gentleman happily tells us good-bye with the words "You are incredible, Hamburg!".
Of course there is no way that people let him go. With loud shouts of "Zugabe!" (encore), clapping, whistling and stamping, the audience makes their refusal to go home just yet known. When the stage lights up again, it shows Tilo Wachter who plays his haunting Hang-drum-accompanied solo. Gentleman comes back with You Remember and then, finally, presents Tanya Stephens ("the Tracy Chapman of Reggae music") to sing not only their duet Another Melody, but also the well-known It's A Pity. Mr. Otto's motto of the night seems to be "Einer geht noch!" ("One more is possible!"), and he pushes the energetic waves high once more with Dem Gone, diving into the crowd for the rest of the song that quickly transits into Superior.
After 150 minutes of showcase non-stop, lights are dimmed low for the big final: Redemption Song, dedicated to "all the masters who have passed away already". After that emotional outburst, all band members assemble on stage and receive standing ovations. They then jump down into the press ditch to have a picture taken with their fans behind them.
What a night! My deepest respect to the logistic accomplishment the reunification of all these musicians represents. Asked why they chose to do that, Gentleman tells us after the show "We just had to try to bring this crew together to let the vibes created during the live-recording of MTV Unplugged live on. Especially for our fans who couldn't be there - they deserve to feel that!"
I definitely did. While the artists pack up and wait for the bus that will bring them to Munich, the crowd has dispersed. For those who are not ready to let the evening end, Oli and Joscha of Silly Walks have organized an Aftershow-Party in Astrastube. The place is almost too small to hold all those willing to dance the night away, but somehow we manage to find a spot. In the middle of it all, Clay is celebrating his success while his voice booms through the speakers on the brand new Ram Jam Riddim. Love And Be Loved is the title of his song - and a wonderful quote to close this review with.
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