Loyle Carner performed at Auckland’s Town Hall last night. The 13th Floor sent Jeff Neems out to find out what all the fuss is about. And Hamish Graham was there to photograph.
Benjamin Coyle-Larner might be the nicest man in British music.
The 29-year-old rapper and poet, who performs and records as Loyle Carner – a hat-tip to his dyslexia – comes across as a genuinely top bloke: earnest, honest, thoughtful and reflective.
As he stood in front of a sold-out Auckland Town Hall last night, gazing up at hundreds of adoring fans on the mezzanine, there was a very clear sense he still can’t believe just how successful he is becoming. He admitted as much, acknowledging he was genuinely speechless at the response he was getting.
Last night’s show, which saw the South Londoner backed by an excellent five-piece band, largely showcased his 2022 album Hugo, one of the year’s best records and a deep analysis of his life, in particular his relationship with his biological father.
That theme of fatherhood punctuated last night’s show, his second visit to New Zealand but his first as the headline act (previously he appeared at Laneways), and as part of the Elemental Nights series of live performances.
It was impossible to not be left with the feeling he was absolutely thrilled to be there, delivering an excellent selection of his material which ranges from the album and set opener Hate – with it’s overpowering wall of sound feel – straight boom-bap style hip hop (Georgetown, produced by Madlib) and some more mellow moments where his rap morphs more into spoken word, and at the end of his performance, a newly-created acapella poem.
What sets Loyle Carner apart from many of his contemporaries is his deeply personal lyrics and refreshing lack of cussing and swearing. Okay, he drops a few f-bombs during his set, but those are mainly limited to his between-songs monologues which emphasize his attitude to to life – the importance of love, friendship, responsible caring parenting, and retaining a strong notion of positivity through life.
He does not fall into the rut of shouting “motherfucker” constantly, as many of his American contemporaries do, and for an old head like me – who likes proper lyricism, story-telling and cadence – it is a welcome relief from the current hip hop music norm (cc my review of Denzel Curry earlier this year).
I was genuinely impressed by Loyle Carner’s stage energy, his consistent effort to engage with and educate his audience, the tightness of his band, and the broad range of jazzy, soulful and bass-heavy tunes. It was a seriously good show, in a beautiful venue, in front of a crowd made up of a surprisingly large number of young women. I’ll speculate that as well as his down-to-earth nice guy vibes, he’s also easy on the eye and an properly attractive man. Regardless, the crowd was properly hyped, to the point Loyle Carner went as far as suggesting it was the best crowd he’s every played to, in a country he has quickly come to love.
If there can be one complaint about his set it was the sound mix. At times Loyle Carner’s voice was lost entirely in the sound of the band, making it difficult to understand his cleverly crafted lyrics. Yes, there were times when he shone as the band (and sound engineer) lowered the volume, but sadly there were too many times when his verbal delivery sounded muddy and overpowered, to the point where it was lost entirely. For a venue like the Town Hall, with it’s world-class acoustics, that was seriously disappointing.
Nonetheless, a sharp, slick and smart performance which many contemporary hip hop acts could learn from. I’d go back for a second dose if there was one.
Support act Kojaque (Kevin Smith) also deserves more attention. The Irish rapper (yes, really, Irish) had a nice flow and understated clever rhyme style and produced some excellent moments which carefully blended straight-ahead old-school rap with some r’n’b style singing. He’s also a film maker and visual artist, and a clearly talented individual who wraps his very Irish accent around some clever and incisive lyrics.
Anyway, Loyle Carner is red hot right now – nominated for prizes, appearing at festivals all over the world – and based on what we saw at the Auckland Town Hall last night, he’s only going to get hotter.
– Jeff Neems
Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Hamish Graham:
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