With a gradual layering of heavy bass beats and rippling symbols, the adrenaline was already pulsing hard through The Bodega before reggae and soul artist Natty had even shown his face. It was a somewhat unsurprising anticipation as, since the release of his debut album Man Like I in 2008, Natty hasn’t treated us to much more than the occasional EP… until this spring at least, which finally brought us the comeback we’d all been waiting for in the form of his highly anticipated second album Release The Fear, and a UK tour to go along with it.

Against a backdrop of ethereal chanting, our leading man took his time before sauntering on stage, appearing almost unnervingly calm, barely smiling in his loose t-shirt and chunky beads. He gave the eager crowd a rather subdued nod, assumed centre stage and kicked off what turned out to be a hefty two hour long set, starting with striking new track ‘Gaia’. Born in San Francisco and raised in London, Natty’s sound combines all the best of sonic progression with the unmistakable spirit of the 60s and 70s, and that’s exactly what he gave us here as his lyrics invited us along on his mystical and mindful journey: “you go to dreamland/there’s no escape”.

The dreamy vibes of his set continued as he and his band, known as The Rebelship, then swept us into ‘Cold Town’ in a frenzy of musical collaboration. There seemed to be so much soul in each instrument and each player, and it was perhaps such intense passion that brought home the realisation that Natty was more modest than somber: his subdued stage expression a reflection of the themes of self-identity and unity in his music rather than a standoffish personality.

“Natty’s sound combines all the best of sonic progression with the unmistakable spirit of the 60s and 70s”

Nonetheless, at the first chord of everybody’s favourite ‘Bedroom Eyes’, even he couldn’t refrain from brightening up as he really began to dance. With the experimental tempo of this live rendition and the half sung lines finished by a smiling crowd, it appeared that Natty and his Rebelship had finally landed.

Contrary to the typical structure of his shows – “a lot of the time I just sing. I don’t talk, nothing. But I’m going to try and break the curfew today so I’m going to talk” – Natty got chatty as he indulged us with wholehearted extended performances of all of our favourites, including ‘July’ and ‘Badman’. His mindful messages brought old songs back to life as he drew the connections to their origins and backstories.

But that’s not to say that his newer material lacked meaning either, as he rounded up the set with an almost endless performance of album closer ‘Release The Fear’. By this point the room was hot and the Natty’s energy had fully blossomed, concluding the night as a true performance of voice, body and mind, all at the same time.

Emma Doyle

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