“It’s a long wait, but it’s worth it.”
We are into the second hour of waiting for Jacob Collier at Canons Marsh, Bristol, and the person behind me sounds apologetic. The crowd – a fairly proportionate mix of young and old – seems fairly calm, responding to DJ Louis Cole with at least twice the energy he gives off during his set. I count at least twelve different instruments on stage, including a massive Steinway and Sons piano that’s been getting tuned for the past half hour.
“It’s worth it,” repeats my neighbour with conviction. And he’s proved right.
All gripes about standing around in the sun for this long amid Canons Marsh Amphitheatre are immediately forgotten when Jacob bounds onto the stage. He races through three songs in the blink of an eye, before addressing the crowd, rapping in one second and playing hypnotic, chime-infused jazz the next. We have no idea what’s going on, or what will come next, but we love it.
He leaps from one instrument to the other with joyful, methodical madness. At one point he plays the lead guitar, simultaneously bangs out a chord on the piano with his foot, and then switches to the tambourine. Another time he finishes a song by hurling a mallet at a gong hidden in plain sight in a giant ‘JC’ on stage. “Is it alright if we get a little funky in here?” he asks, to roaring approval, before putting his bucket hat on.
Collier’s set goes through major hits like ‘Hideaway’, ‘All I Need’ and a dreamy acoustic version of ‘The Sun Is In Your Eyes’. There doesn’t seem to be a tonal order to the set, which means the audience goes from bluesy jazz to soulful ballads with little-to-no warning. Along with his own music, Collier also performs an alternatingly funk and original version of ‘Somebody to Love’, and a harmony-rich ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’. You could hear a pin drop during the reverent silence with which the audience listens to the slower songs, hesitant to break the spell.
Though some of Collier’s most popular videos feature him alone in his room, his concert sees him sharing the stage experience most equitably with everyone involved: vocalists Alita Moses, Emily Elbert and Erin Bentlage, bassist Robin Mullarkey, drummer Christian Euman, and most importantly, the crowd.
One of the main criticisms surrounding Collier is that his music is ‘too much’ and ‘not for everybody’. For the average listener – one with a fraction of the theoretical knowledge Collier possesses – this may be true of his work available online. Even his covers seem to have 10,000 additional chords and layers produced into them and seem difficult to translate into a concert where singing along should be part of the experience.
I look around me. Music nerd or otherwise, everyone is too entranced to be bothered.
Throughout the show, he also sprinkles in the crowd conducting that his shows have gone viral for. All you have to do is sing one note and pay attention to Collier’s instruction – the rest takes care of itself. In those moments, regardless of your level of musicality, you feel the power of making music with others; an ethereal feeling, almost too precious to put into words.
The nature of crowd involvement at his concerts may mean the experience will not stay the same at Wembley or an O2. The way they are at the moment, Collier’s shows are experienced best in closed rooms, in relatively smaller crowds. This particular venue is open-air, which means some of the subtler instruments and more intricate elements get lost in the process.
A short 90 minutes after he opens, Collier bounds off-stage with the same manic energy with which he came on, only to return in a tiny car when the crowd chants for an encore. The show ends with an intimate rendition of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’. Next to me, several people wipe tears from their eyes.
As the crowd leaves the venue in a spontaneous conga line to ‘September’ by Earth, Wind and Fire, my heart is full. Sure, the music of Jacob Collier may not be for everyone, but I can say with conviction that his concerts definitely are.