Caribou Vibration Ensemble - Live at Scala, London

Ahead of Caribou's ATP curation
Caribou Vibration Ensemble - Live at Scala, London
The co-curation of an ATP festival is no mean feat for one man and his band, but Dan Snaith is rolling out the big guns at this year's 'Nightmare Before Christmas'. Teaming up with Les Savy Fav and Battles, Caribou will curate Sunday's line up and the weekend will culminate in a rare performance by The Caribou Vibration Ensemble. This is Caribou like you've never seen them before. Snaith has assembled an 11-piece band featuring Marshall Allen (Sun Ra Arkestra), Kieran Hebden (Four Tet), James Holden, a 4 piece horn section and two drummers. As the Caribou machine oils it’s musical wheels in preparation for the weekend, fans have packed out Scala, London, to witness the ensemble’s third ever show, the first being over two years ago.

The excitement is palpable as the lights dim and the opening sounds of ‘Hannibal’ fill our ears. An air of mystery surrounds the band as they take their places, silhouetted by the low back light that washes the stage, 11 men each dressed all in white: Caribou’s trademark look. Synths give way to the horn section as the song builds and the crisp tones of live saxophone ring out the song’s six-note hook. Sadly Marshall Allen isn’t in attendance tonight, but his counterparts more than make up for his absence. The tune swells as both percussionists weave their beats around one another, like a dance. The arrangement reaches a climax and all instrumentation ceases in unison, save the synths and Snaith’s tambourine. The timing is faultless. It’s hard to believe this collective have not been playing together for years.

Without a breath the ensemble plunges into ‘Bowls’ - an energetic frenzy of percussive noise, broken only by the soothing flurry of signature strings. With a live flautist at Caribou’s disposal one would hope that the danceable riff of ‘Leave House’ is going to sound better than ever. Sadly, this is not the case as the flute is barely audible. The percussion isn’t quite right either. There is a complexity to tonight’s drumming that gives the song a west end show quality - the like of which is not heard in the song’s recording. Despite this, the sound is still undoubtedly beautiful and vocal harmonies from Snaith and Caribou regular John Schmersal more than rescue the track.

Mid-way through the show, the four original band members exit and it is their guests’ turn to shine. Hebden and Holden bring an accelerating sequence of electronic bleeps that are complemented by the horn section, and with Ahmed Gallab (Yeasayer) on drums, building in intensity until the wall of noise becomes all encompassing. The song’s end is met with rapturous applause from audience and fellow ensemble alike.

The return of the full band sees ‘Odessa’, which is given a carnival vibe when the ensemble strays from the original arrangement and into the realms of bongo and jazz flute - such a wealth of talent and breadth of musical ability gathered on one stage. ‘Sun’ sees the ensemble bathed in amber light as Snaith’s voice is distorted and manipulated, whilst a euphoric audience hold their hands aloft as if giving thanks for what they are witnessing.

“Thank you so much, you’ve been amazing” announces Snaith as the Caribou Vibration Ensemble prepares to leave the stage. It’s difficult to know whether he’s addressing his audience or his fellow musicians.

For those heading to Minehead this weekend, you are in for a treat of sumptuous sounds to delight your senses. Enjoy!

Words by Becci Ride

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