Entering a transformed St Mary’s Church on a Saturday night for an intimate gig with one of Detroit’s most established funk artists felt a little surreal. The austere high arched ceilings, stained glass windows and paintings of Jesus slightly at odds with the nightclub lighting, makeshift bar serving alcohol and buzzing Saturday night crowd.
Local Tru Thoughts artist Abi Flynn sang beautifully; her clear, soulful voice reverberating off the carved stone walls. She spoke eloquently about her struggle with cancer and her wish to remain positive. A song about the child she’ll no longer be able to have was particularly poignant, and her positive message of love and hope was captured in the song ‘Courage’, accompanied by the talented keyboardist, James Berkeley. While Abi was on stage, Amp came and sat down next to us in one of the pews, but ironically, we lacked the courage to speak to him.
With a simple stage set-up, Amp Fiddler played a one-man show, accompanied only by synths, keyboard and mic. This didn’t work for the venue. With such a grand, spacious building, a full live band would have matched the space much more adequately. This was more like a live DJ set with some vocals thrown in.
He took a long time to warm up, fiddling with the mic stand and synths, and playing rather minimal beats. The markedly older crowd watching from the pews and the centre aisle were fidgety and losing interest. However, when he eventually got to ‘Right Where You Are’, heads started bobbing and feet began shuffling. He even stepped off the stage and came to greet the audience for a while.
Although one would expect the acoustics in a church to add another level to the sound, unfortunately it distorted the music at times, and it was difficult to hear what he said between songs. True to his name, Amp was engrossed in fiddling with his synthesizers and laptop, but this created a lack of engagement with the crowd. It wasn’t so much a performance, as a demonstration of musical skill – and the man is undoubtedly skilled.
With a huge vocal range, his soaring high notes and growly, deep groans were note perfect. His set was largely made up of the funkier tunes from his catalogue, with a lot of material from his latest album ‘Amp Dog Knights’ released in November 2017, and remix album; ‘Motor City Booty’. The show felt a lot like a disco-house DJ set, but was warmly received by the hardcore fans.
The best moments were his full renditions of his own songs, such as ‘Good Vibes’, which Flynn briefly joined him on stage for, and ‘If I Don’t’ with its catchy jazz-funk horns. The low points were when he digressed from his own material, making it feel somewhat disjointed.
Towards the end, the die-hard fans in the middle aisle stormed the stage when Mr Fiddler said “You know, I don’t see any ropes here”. Dancing joyfully around Amp on all sides for ‘Steppin’, he took it all in his stride; the epitome of cool.
St Mary’s Church, Saturday 24th March 2018
Words by Emma Baker