Paolo Morena: a one man band for the 21st Century
Venue: Groucho Club, London
Onstage, Paolo Morena's only companion is the prospect of imminent technical catastrophe... but his chaotic live show is a thrilling triumph
While he's most effectively described as a '21st century one-man band', the first thing you have to understand about Paolo Morena is that he's not a one-man band. There's no bass drum strapped to his back nor cymbals clamped between his knees. Paolo's a master of numerous musical disciplines and the possessor of a broadly-ranging voice that, as emotion strikes (which is often) suggests Jeff Buckley, but he also wrangles loops in similarly compelling style to a professional spinner of plates.
Human beatboxes have been known to utilise similar methods, but it's rarely attempted - especially on such an ambitious scale - with conventional instrumentation, because it's bloody hard.
Bloody hard to the point of being virtually impossible, in fact.
With this virtual impossibility comes jeopardy: a real possibility of imminent catastrophe that adds an irresistible extra frisson to proceedings. Each song begins with an initial lick, usually an acoustic or electric guitar figure that Paolo captures, loops and repeats as necessary. To this he adds sampled snatches of live drums, bass, keys, lead and backing vocals, all dropped in and out of the constantly evolving cyclic mix with more foot pedals than any man who jealously guards his sanity would ever voluntarily attempt to wrangle simultaneously.
Especially whilst emoting passionately before a roomful of strangers.
Obviously, this all smacks of a certain amount of gimmickry and suggests a decidedly short shelf life, but there's an intrinsic quality to Morena's material that ultimately outweighs the initial appeal of watching a sweat-soaked man stumble from one instrument to another while frantically stamping on foot pedals like Norman Collier in The Kids From Fame production of Chaplin's Modern Times. In Morena's astoundingly adept hands the spectacle steadily ceases to appear extraordinary, and the songs invariably steal audience attention away from the show.
The cyclical simplicity necessitated by technical constraints often recalls vintage U2, while Paolo's attractively bumbling, techno boffin personality helps to infuse his defining signature piece Where Do You Go When You Don't Fit In? with a similar irresistible degree of bedsit loner magnetism to Radiohead's Creep. Paolo is not above wearing a wool hat, he's attractively tousled and haphazardly stubbled, and he looks like he's been dressed by accident. No stylist could stumble upon such a chaotic vision of cuteness by design. His stage banter is winningly inappropriate; he's a scamp. But behind the puppy eyes you detect the beguiling street-smarts of an urban fox.
He finishes with the coincidentally timely Dance David Dance. Written and recorded shortly before Bowie's demise, it's an engaging and catchy Berlin-tinged homage apparently fated to provide Paolo Morena with his first significant batch of needle-time. Fair warning then, as if it were even needed, to catch this man they call The Mighty Small before the mainstream swallows him whole and spits him out as an arena-packing monster.