Review: The Correspondents & Krafty Kuts @ Exeter Phoenix

I rushed into the venue 10 minutes late and found myself on an empty dance floor. In the shadows was a lone DJ, not mentioned in the program, who I had never before heard of. As someone who was expecting Krafty Kuts, or even The Correspondents straight out of the gate, being taken to one side and quietly informed that “yes this is the correct room” was very disappointing. What I heard of the set (from outside, on a couch) was an interesting and quite decent grab-bag of jungle dubstep. Unfortunately, I had come for electro-swing. From my outside perch, I was mildly pleased by listening to ‘Completely’, by jazz singer Caro Emerald, being played in a different room, which was at least in the same ball park. It was a sad case of “it’s too early, I’m not in the mood, and I’m not drunk enough”, to steal a phrase from my plus one.

Two hours later, the Correspondents finally stepped onstage. And my disappointment with the night thus far was immediately swept away by the first beat drop. I couldn’t help it. The music was simply too upbeat and the main singer/performer, Mr. Bruce, simply too good at what he does, and taking too much joy in it for one to be unaffected. Reflecting the more abstract direction that their music videos have been moving towards, Mr. Bruce appeared completely bald and clad in a black and white Kandinsky-esque jumpsuit. He gave a rather normal and unremarkable greeting to the audience, and announced the first song of the night, ‘Finally’ from Foolishman. It was a pleasant and mellow way to start things off— the music relatively slow-paced by their standards, and Mr. Bruce simply stood there and sang. His voice was very well-controlled and delightfully theatrical, never wavering or going noticeably off-key.

This lasted about half a minute, when with a bounce and a downward punch from Mr. Bruce, the beat dropped and the song doubled in speed. As noted in my preview for the show, one of the main advantages of seeing them live is getting to witness Mr. Bruce’s spectacular dance moves. The man is a living cartoon— his long limbs perfect for whirling around, as he jumped, flailed, and spun in time with the music, all the while maintaining perfect control of his voice. Though thoroughly charismatic when singing, his powerful stage presence kicked in at full force when he started to move; I didn’t see a single person who stood still while he danced.

Along with tracks from The Correspondents’ albums—Puppet Loosely Strung (2014) and Foolishman (2017), they also performed some electronic remixes of classic swing tunes such as ‘Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)’, originally by Benny Goodman. “Let’s change to something a little less DJ, just by a smidgen,” Mr. Bruce declared with a grin after the 3rd song. What followed was a peppy carnival tune that was, while indeed less ‘DJ’, was no less fast-paced. These remixes gave the band, and the other half of The Correspondents, Mr. Chucks, a chance to shine.

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After an extremely well-received and hyped up performance of ‘Fear and Delight’, Mr. Bruce lost his glasses, prompting a spontaneous and amusing intermission where the audience and the band helped him recover them. It was a nice little comedic bit complete with occasional stings, courtesy of the band’s excellent drummer. Though Mr. Bruce didn’t speak much to the audience between songs, moments like this, and a brief moment of crowd surfing later, did a lot to endear the performer to the audience.

“The night is drawing to a close…” The last song of the set was ‘The Devil’s Lighthous’e, one of the most melancholic of the songs performed that night. When the inevitable beat drop came and the pace increased, the sudden bass was so forceful it barely stopped short of drowning out the vocals entirely. Slowing down dramatically near the middle, the singer led a slow clap to the song’s sinister refrain, “I’ve got the keys to the devil’s lighthouse”. The music gradually faded away before bombastically returning, louder than ever. Around me people were dancing and thrashing almost violently, hunched over and motions wild; I and many others lost ourselves to the music (which meant that I temporarily paused in my job as a reviewer as I completely forgot to pay attention to the singer, but one could safely assume that he was dancing just as frantically). That was what a final dance should be like— desperate and joyous, violently energetic but with an underlying somberness; it was the perfect denouement for this group.

With a final plug for the group’s upcoming 10 year anniversary vinyl and one more quick dance (“The night is not over, we still have Krafty Kuts to keep the night going; so until he comes onstage, we’ll fill in the last 3 minutes with as much f**king [whatever the title of the song was it was very loud] as possible”), the stage was passed to Krafty Kuts. By the time he started his second song, half the audience had cleared out, most likely for the same reason not many people stayed for the opening act. Despite the unwelcome opening and ending acts, the main performance was unforgettable.

– by Jing Lau

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