Groove Armada

•• Groove Armada @ Brixton Academy, London, 9 December 2004
•• Published: SoundsXP, December 2004
•• Original article:

The dance scene is a fickle beast with precious few acts able to maintain any kind of longevity, let alone release a unit-shifting 'Best Of' album and sell out Brixton Academy for four consecutive nights as Groove Armada just have. It is a while since 'Vertigo' brought them widespread attention and acclaim but Andy Cato and Tom Findlay are currently riding on the crest of a wave and the (car)booty-shaking duo seem intent on celebrating their success in style.

The mellow tones of 'Chicago' quietly announce their arrival on-stage and this is followed by another laidback number, 'My Friend', which eases out of the speakers with its funk-heavy guitar, lush chords and Valerie M's soul-laden vocals. But the calm is soon shattered as heavy bass, a huge, braying-donkey-style acidline and some rib-cracking kick drums send the crowd back to a muddy field somewhere in 1989, serving as a much-needed reminder of the energy, passion and movement that once made dance music so popular.

Order is restored by the beautiful dream-like 'Blue Skies' featuring the lofty Cato, (a former Young Jazz Musician of the Year), on trombone but there is more to Groove Armada's armoury than just upfront dance and downtempo snoozing. After the atmosphere-slaying spell of darkness during one euphoric track, they remind us of this with a couple of well-received skate rock numbers featuring crunching guitar and MC M.A.D.'s spat-out raps. A dose of the dancefloor is never far away though and the Car Wash style strings and glitterball bursts of 'Take Me Home' are followed by a wigged out, snake-charming version of the seemingly ubiquitous 'I See You Baby'.

The encore begins with another old favourite, the genre-defining chill out classic 'At The River', as Cato makes the sound of a tarmac-melting summer day spent on the beach even warmer with some more drowsy trombone-playing. The crowd are re-awakened by the ska blast of brass and bouncing dub bass line of 'Superstylin'', inspiring much whooping and shape-making, and shaken to the core when the band return to the stage for a final time to unleash one last acid-drop – reprising the earlier old-school dance monster - to create a euphoric end to an enjoyably eclectic gig.

Though dance music is arguably what they do best, calling Groove Armada a 'dance act' may in itself be misleading as they blend soul, dub, hip hop, reggae and skate rock with the usual up-tempo floorfillers and blissed-out grooves. It is this seeming lack of susceptibility to the in-house tribalism that fractures and stifles the dance scene that may have proved the key to their enduring success. As long as they retain such open-minded genre-dipping tendencies, the 'Armada will remain afloat for a long time yet.

- Ian Roullier, 12/2004
Copyright © Ian Roullier 2004-2014