Coco and the Butterfields @Jazz Cafe 20/02/15

5 stars (out of 5)

0

CATB TitleIt’s nearly two years since Klare Stephens reviewed a Coco and the Butterfields gig at The Blind Tiger in Brighton for MusicRiot and it’s fair to say that the Canterbury band have grown (in more ways than one) since that gig, although they’ve managed to stay true to the busking ethos that underpins their music and has helped to create their truly dedicated fanbase. So now they’re headlining at The Jazz Café in Camden on a Friday night and it’s a good opportunity to see how far they’ve come in such a short time.

But before CATB take the stage, there’s a support set from singer-songwriter Mario Lottari who (despite a few technical glitches) wins over the mass of CATB fans crowding the front of the stage with his well-crafted songs and a versatile band backing him up with a huge variety of instrumental textures. That’s another one I’ll be watching out for this year.

CATB don’t so much hit the stage as engulf it; I have to do a headcount because there are so many of them. On top of the core line-up of double bass, banjo, fiddle, guitar and beatbox, there’s also trumpet, sax, a string section (two violins and a cello) and a drummer; I ran out of fingers and had to rely on a smartphone to keep count. By this time, the ground floor of the Jazz Café (and most of the staircases) is a seething mass of bodies and this isn’t a scenester crowd; these people are all here to see Coco and the Butterfields do their stuff. So what is it that inspires such fanaticism?

Well, the band has a pretty good repertoire of original songs now, including “King of the Corner”, “Astronaut”, “Scarecrow” and the anthemic “Warriors”, but they’re equally good knocking out their own take on a song that you might not expect, like “Hard Knock Life” tonight, for example. CATB is not about individual musicianship; it’s much more of an ensemble thing where everyone has their own part to play, but there’s another, more important, difference between this and any other ordinary gig. This isn’t a performance where the band play at the audience and the audience passively soak up the show; it works because the band and the audience enjoy a symbiotic experience. The band feed off the audience reaction and it pushes them on to an even higher level; if every gig was like this, we wouldn’t have any problem filling live venues and maybe more musicians could make a decent living.

This is the fourth time I’ve seen CATB and each time it’s been a step up the London gig ladder. I haven’t seen them play a bad gig, and this time they were superb. Their roots may be in busking and they look as if it’s all a bit of fun, but they take the music very seriously indeed. They seem to be moving at the moment towards a more conventional (by CATB standards) stage line-up, with the addition of a drummer to augment beatboxer Jamie’s percussion and the brief appearance of a couple of electric guitars during the set and it’s shaping up to be an interesting year for them; they seem to be at the point where they can break out from the Kent scene and build their following nationwide. The way their audiences are reacting at the moment, I think the band can still go a lot further (if they want to) without losing the fanatical following they have at the moment.

The bottom line is that you really should go and watch this band.