Written by Rahoul Naik
The thought of going to see a Grammy-winning Blues artist at the small yet cosy venue that is The Bodega, in the heart of Nottingham, was one of joy and anticipation.
Have I ever seen someone held so high in regard before in such a small venue, so far away from their own home? Probably not. Yet it is not uncommon as we saw JMSN at the Hare & Hounds (a similar venue) in Birmingham and he was incredible.
After only being exposed to Fantastic’s music since his new album landed in my lap, I have been addicted to his blues sound amped up on steroids of emotion and bits of funk. I knew I was in for a treat, the whole audience did; but what we experienced, was something so special; something different and full of energy.
Miraculous Mule, a three-piece from London, opened the gig. They stood on stage with an air of swagger about them, especially the lead vocalist and guitarist. Their first track was like being hit in the face with slimy putty: loud, messy and very grungy. I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like it if they kept it up, but as the first song started to enter my taste palette, they brought it back down into a much more broody, slightly ambient and spacey blues rock which was most definitely the perfect opening.
This was the last date of Fantastic’s tour in the UK and the last that Miraculous Mule were supporting and you could tell their routine was well rehearsed and polished, but they were trying to go out with a bang.
As their set came to a close and the venue started to fill up from about the 30 that I arrived to, to about 50-70; the atmosphere was expecting, I could see it on the sound engineer’s face!
As Fantastic’s guitarist laid out set lists and towels for the 5 piece band, Fantastic popped out of a door to the Smoking Area and slid onto stage with his pink shirt, waistcoat and tweed trousers, he doesn’t seem to fit into a single stereotype about blues musicians, yet his whole band rocked waistcoats and ties, there was something significant and appealing about the un-uniformed uniform. I liked it.
Opening up with Working Poor, I could tell that Fantastic’s set was going to tell a story. The first thing I noticed was his voice, it is immaculate, with a strong range and shows an amount of control and emotion that demonstrates why he has done so well with his finely tuned sound.
There was a quick switch between the first and second song, with Fantastic getting into an angry rendition of Ninja Song. The song already invokes a lot of emotion (including anger) and he channels it so well, his wide eyes bringing everybody closer to the music, spiritually.
In this cosy venue, which wasn’t packed fully, as we were reminded twice when Fantastic urged the English crowd to come closer; Fantastic’s eye contact, crowd interaction and engagement, his acting out of lyrics and beyond fabulous dance moves all made it seem like we already knew him and we were just sitting in his front room.
Halfway through the set, he moves into this story about jumping into a red door alone, a door of honesty, somewhere other men do not want to be. The story was different because it broke up the set beautifully, it was well performed and supported by the band, especially the drummer and it provided a neat segue into Honest Man, which is one of the stand out songs of the album and the set.
The set also featured a couple of short motivational speeches; like DJ Khaled, about winning and about being in recovery for something, his was Narcissism. At times it felt like a classroom, where he would teach us about love and life. At times, he would put his hands out towards the crowd like he was spreading the blues, just as a street pastor may spread his blessings. It was a righteous and holy experience (in the musical sense).
Just before he went into the last song of the night, Lost In A Crowd, Fantastic spoke about the inspiration for the song, claiming that artists are the “last line of defence against tyranny” and that art brings people together, unlike politicians who try to divide and rule.
The crowd went wild at the last song and I am sure if the average age of the crowd was a little younger, there would have been calls for an encore.
As I tried to grab a set list from the band, I unintentionally eavesdropped into a few conversations where people were “surprised at how good he was” and it seemed like there were a lot of new and intrigued people there as well as the hardcore blues fans.
The gig was fabulous; even in that cosy upstairs venue in the middle of Nottingham, I am now closer to Fantastic and I understand him and his music better than ever.
You have to check out Fantastic’s Tiny Desk Concert below and I urge you to give his record a spin too!
Credit: NPR Music