Rewind: It’s 1998 and I am in Amsterdam for the second time. As I sit in one of the cities famed “coffee houses”, high on hash and space cake, music comes on over the speakers and I pause amid the smoky conversations around me and listen closely. Something about what I am hearing affects me deeply. It began with these deep beats that set a hypnotic groove then segued into mind-blowing wah-wah guitar riffs. And then this chocolate-syrup voice starts in, all silky smooth and warm, and it carries me on a river of sound. The album I was hearing for the first time in my stoned-out state of mind was Big Calm by the British trip-hop band Morcheeba, and from that moment on I was obsessed with their music.
Morcheeba, in my mind, is Old School. Founded by guitarist Ross Godfrey, his brother producer/DJ Paul Godfrey, and singer Skye Edwards, the longevity of their sound has been blazing the pathway for mixed-genre electronic music since the mid-1990s. Over the last 25 years, the tumultuous history of Morcheeba included Edwards leaving in 2003, which led to the Godfrey brothers to utilize other singers. Eventually, everything fell apart in 2014 when Paul Godfrey left, leaving Ross Godfrey to reboot their music as Morcheeba with Edwards joining on as singer once more. With nine studio albums under their belt, including the 2018 release Blaze Away, the band continues to create incredible down-tempo grooves that ease your mind and energize your body. The current lineup of the band also includes Edwards’ husband and son, bassist Steve Gordon, and drummer Jaega Mckenna-Gordon, with Dominic Pipkin taking on keyboards and electronic gadgets.
The band’s 2019 American tour included a stop at one of the Bay Area’s newest venues, The Midway, a massive art and music complex housed in a sprawling old warehouse in an industrial area of San Francisco. Morcheeba fans waited with excited energy, as it had been awhile since the band last toured. The lights dimmed, atmospheric smoke created an air of mystery as the band took the stage and started in on many songs from Big Calm, including the ska-vibe of “Friction”, and the soaring grooves of “The Sea. Edwards played with the audience during “Part Of The Process” by getting us to sing along with her with she beamed her magnetic smile while she aimed her mic our way. “Trigger Hippie”, with all its various electronic beats and slide guitar, flowed into the air as Edwards seduced us with her voice. The band showcased “Blaze Away” from their newest album of the same name and put forth an amazing, trip-hop version of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” that sent the audience into an intense state of ecstasy. Morcheeba closed out their incredible set with the slow-groove of “Crimson", then dug in one more from their past with the high-energy, disco-pop romp of “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day”.
Often when I witness shows with major international acts, I feel that the band doesn’t do much to actually try connect with the crowd, that they play their music by rote and forget that we are there watching them. With Morcheeba, this was not the case. There were stories, explanations of songs, sing-alongs, banter and laughter as the band played into the night. Even amid the decades of turmoil and the various fracturings of the band, Morcheeba still has a grasp on what’s important to us and to them; the songs, the music and the words they sing.