Rick Simpson brings new life to Radiohead classics at The Jazz Cafe.
Though it’s only a stone’s throw from Camden Town tube station, my dash to The Jazz Cafe on the night of Sunday, 20th February was a wet one.
Outside the venue, the latest in a volley of storms was raging through London’s streets. Inside, meanwhile, a drenched crowd was eagerly awaiting pianist and composer Rick Simpson, who was set to perform Everything All Of The Time: Kid A Revisited, his ode to the seminal Radiohead album.
A madly brilliant, sprawling recontextualisation of Kid A presented by way of jazz quintet, the project sees Simpson taking a scalpel to each track and extracting its core DNA for use as a basis in his crazed experiments. Each minute detail has been immaculately captured in a recording, and whilst I wholeheartedly advise you to grab a copy, I feel that there’s no better way to first absorb this monumental tribute than to see it play out on stage as I did.
Four unmistakable notes rang out from the piano as the show began. Moments later, what started so recognisably as iconic opener “Everything In Its Right Place” was deconstructed and rebuilt in a matter of seconds, suddenly veering off in a whirlwind of modulations. There were clear allusions to the original music – chords bled through the chaos, and the sax and bass clarinet frontline (the astounding Tori Freestone and Julian Siegel) gave triumphant nods to the vocals – and yet this was a different beast altogether. To hear a song so synonymous with reinvention set ablaze and born again from the ashes was a delight, and felt at once natural and a shock to the system.
Left turns like this were rife throughout the set, which ran in tracklist order. An interpretation of the record’s title track initially retained its icy mood, before launching into a more urgent state, focusing in on the grooving drums and bass that lurk just beneath its glacial electronics. Other songs received the reverse treatment; one of the more erratic, bizarre cuts, “In Limbo,” mutated into a meditative number, teetering between eerie calm and cool-cat jazz. A contemplative bass solo from Dave Whitford gradually melted into downtempo arpeggios, while Freestone’s sparse playing guided the audience towards a rousing climax. Simpson had chosen the perfect group to carry his vision to fruition, something evident both in skittering, anthemic renditions of “The National Anthem” and “Optimistic,” and in quieter moments. Ambient outlier “Treefingers” was reframed as something of a piano and drum duet, the execution of which was only made more impressive by the reveal that drummer Jon Scott had only joined the ensemble the night before.
Dramatic changes in structure and style made recognisable moments even more effective. In the case of “Idioteque,” they swerved away from familiar content up until a colossal drop that justified the turbulent jam preceding it and provided a powerful catharsis. “Motion Picture Soundtrack” and “How To Disappear Completely,” on the other hand, more closely resembled their source material and offered serene diversions amidst the frenzied reworks.
After the main event, we were fortunate enough to get a second set of bonus helpings from Simpson’s Radiohead catalogue. This was no less engaging than the first, featuring the danceable “Fifteen Step” and a performance of Amnesiac’s gloomy sister to Kid A’s “Morning Bell.” His take on the latter brought out the tortured beauty in one of the band’s most left-field works, reviving a track that is commonly misunderstood and putting it to rest peacefully. Other highlights included an improvised medley of “No Surprises,” “Reckoner” and Thom Yorke solo outing “The Eraser” – which Simpson was quick to dismiss as ‘pretty shit’ (it was not) – as well as a cinematic rendition of “Nude,” repurposed as a closing credits theme of sorts.
As someone who was too young to fathom Kid A in its heyday, going in blind to this show was the closest thing to an authentic experience I could dream of. I may never hear the original album in the same light as fans did on its release, but I imagine what they felt must have been close to my feelings at this show: A great deal of bewilderment as the music you know contorts into unfamiliar shapes before you, and ultimately a sense of awe at its newfound form. For those looking to replicate that thrill, I can’t recommend one of these gigs enough.
If you’re looking to hear something different and support Rick Simpson’s outstanding work, be sure to head on down to his next gig or purchase Everything All Of The Time via his Bandcamp. It’s available in both digital and physical formats, and is worth every penny.
In addition to marking my first listen, the show was also my first time at The Jazz Cafe, and I was fascinated by its blended appearance. Downstairs, where I was standing, was the sizeable stage, as well as two bars, the expected fixtures of a venue this size. Upstairs, listeners sat at tables bathed in orange light in a decidedly more ‘jazz’ affair. With its timeless look and excellent sound, it proved an apt, intimate venue for this stellar performance.