Erlend Øye and La Comitiva @ Bush Hall 14th and 15th October, 2018

What do you do when an artist who plays infrequently in the UK decides to rock up for two nights in London with his new band? A band you know a little about but who border on a level of world music fusion that is outside of your comfort level?  You trust your instincts, you sort travel and accommodation and go with the if its Erlend Øye its going to be interesting theory.

Erlend Øye, probably best known as one half of Kings of Convenience and a key part of one of the most dynamic live bands of the last few years, The Whitest Boy Alive. He’s a one man industry of composer, musician, producer, label owner – his skills list is forever extending.  On stage he displays an outgoing, humorous personality, but beneath that is a serious and dedicated artist.  TWBA gigs were exceptional, and memorable. They consisted of great music, dancing like no one was watching for both the band and the crowd members with everyone working together alongside the band to create the experience – those gigs were pure joy.  

Four years ago Øye’s second solo album Legao was released. This was the combined skill of Øye with Hjálmar an Icelandic reggae band, yes you did read that right. On paper it sounded…challenging.   In reality the gigs in support were great and the band were showcased.  Astoundingly to me, Legao remains my most played album of the last few years, a strange force of sunshine when times have been dark, as a complete piece of work, I love it.

So four years on from his last solo visit(with the Rainbows) in London he’s back with a group of friends from Siracusa (where he now lives) in a new collaboration. The group is La Comitiva, who consist of Stefano (guitar, vocal, saxaphone) Marco (guitar, vocal and trumpet)  and Luigi (vocal,cavaquinho) Øye sings and plays ukulele (or to be precise tenor ukulele) and guitar. It is claimed from the stage by Øye that he met these guys in the “dangerous neighbourhood”  thats really not dangerous, in Siracusa hanging out and playing music.  Whatever the full tale there are plenty of laughs and knowing grins on stage and one thing is certain, they are well rehearsed and tight as a band. 

The set for the first evening consists of a strong showing for Øye’s back catalogue with tracks from Legao, now being interpreted in a new way.  The ease of songs like Fence Me In, Rainman and Peng Pong remain and the new take on them works, these are songs that should be played live.  The venue is packed and the guys initially all seem a tad nervous which makes Øye work hard to care take the band on stage by settling and leading them.

By third song Upside Down the band hit the sweet spot to create the first highlight of the night with TWBA songs back to back (Intentions follows).  The uptempo numbers release a wave of movement through the crowd and now it’s obvious what La Comitiva bring to the stage, they show they can match Øyes musicianship and enthusiasm, the whole thing begins to really gel.  It is these numbers and the conversion of electronic tracks Prego Amore, Phonique track For the Time Being and Every Party has a Winner and a Loser that are the stand out moments. La Comitiva breathe new and different life into the familiar – it truly works. 

As the gig progresses the members of La Comitiva have the space to shine and to perform with Øye as a spectator. Part of me loves the risk of this, its a brave move to be the main name and stand back (or as Erlend does, go dancing) for a couple of songs, especially when your musicians friends are this good.

The second night is in slight contrast to the first. Øye is visibly much more at ease and the band interaction and flow is like watching friends play for the sheer enjoyment of being together.  This may in part be due to the fact that a good proportion of the audience from the previous night are here and there is strong support, you can feel it in the atmosphere.

Personally, I’m delighted they changed the centre section of the setlist, showing they have considered their audience and are superbly prepared (see setlists below).   On both nights Øye performs solo with just an acoustic guitar and takes time to chat to the audience. He remains both endearing and funny, conveying aspects of his life and the odd mishap that comes his way.  I’m never keen on hearing covers of songs by The Smiths, so I am somewhat relieved when his rendition of Heaven Knows Im Miserable Now is less subtle than expected, and has a knowing pause in the delivery, on key lines. 

Both nights the gig ramped up to an outstanding version of La Prima Estate, played in this format with ukelele, guitar and horns it gives a different, harder energy to the song (they should record this version).  The return for the encore includes the Wedding Song, which shows Øye at his wry, expressive best, the audience included in the fun.  Closing both nights with the whole group climbing into the audience to play in the centre of the room the quartet had the Bush Hall crowd singing then exiting, smiling. 

As an audience member if you attended either night you had a great time and left with that feel good factor that Øye is capable of creating.  For me, even with reservations about what I’d be hearing, the chance to attend both nights was too good an opportunity to miss.  The second night with the different set list and the performers more relaxed, went up a couple more gears than the first. 

So to answer my earlier questions will I ever love a world music type of vibe, probably not, but that is unimportant. What I respect is the drive to experiment, create experience and deliver two gigs of outstanding quality, that is what Erlend Øye and La Comitivia achieved. 

Reviewer: Stephanie Colledge


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