London Southbank Centre
I want a large tub of whatever cold remedy Brian Eno is using to get me through the winter. He says he has a heavy cold, but is singing his way through his 2016 long player ‘The Ship’ without apparent impediment. It’s monumentally bad timing to come down with the lurgy, what with this being the final date of his first ever solo tour, but despite that, the show is a welded-on triumph.
Eno himself is perched at his sonic ship’s bridge in a raised tier behind the players of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, who walk onto the stage gracefully and play standing up, without sheet music. They become a part of the piece not just as the musical sea bed on which everything depends, but also visually, swaying and shifting around like sub-aquatic lifeforms. The effect is intensified by the lighting, itself a masterclass in creating immersive atmospheres without resorting to eye-blistering fireworks.
Alongside Eno, who is picked out in spotlights when he’s rattling the timbers with his voice and reaching for one of his gizmos to add treatments to it, are longtime collaborators Peter Chilvers and Leo Abrahams. Singer Melanie Pappenheim augments Eno’s singing, and actor Peter Serafinowicz provides narration, his fruity voice more than a match for Eno’s own bass vox.
The performance of ‘The Ship’ evokes the same sense of unfathomable depth and becalmed aimlessness that the orginal album evoked so vividly. That album, by the way, with seven years on the clock, is now starting to feel like one of Eno’s best.
After ‘The Ship’ docks with its joyous cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Set Free’ there follows a meander through a handful of Eno catalogue, including ‘By This River’ from ‘Before And After Science’ which is introduced as “nearly 50 years old. I wish I was…” and maintains the watery theme of the evening (“Through the day, as if on an ocean,” he sings). It ends in a standing ovation.
For the encore, the mood is inevitably shifted by ‘Bone Bomb’ from 2005’s ‘Another Day On Earth’, a song inspired by a news item Eno read that quoted an Israeli doctor describing how the bones of a suicide bomber become shards of shrapnel which have to be removed from their victims. After floating blissfully free for the preceding hour or so, it makes for a jarring return to tragic reality.
‘The Ship’ is remastered and re-released on Coke bottle green transparent vinyl