Published Nov 22, 2010An absurdly packed house seemed relaxed in tempered anticipation during the DJ and brief opening performance, but once Black Milk hit the stage, all reservations were cast aside and the roof was animatedly raised. Choosing to support the increasingly varied instrumentation and scope of his recent material with a small but focused live ensemble -- keys, drums and turntables, plus a drum pad he occasionally jumped behind himself -- as opposed to the standard MC/DJ set-up, Black dropped straight into "Welcome" and nimbly ran the gamut of his back catalogue without missing a beat.
The obvious comparison one could make in presentation is the Roots, although there was less outright improvisation and extended jams. Black's musicians were more interested in offering tidy reinterpretations of older numbers and sticking fairly close to the script for songs from the recent Album of the Year.
With the DJ filling in the third dimension and the frontman in energetic form, there was little to complain about with the arrangements and execution of the material. Key tracks from 2008's much-lauded Tronic release became more relaxed and organic, while the highly detailed musicality of the newer tracks became tighter and less cluttered. Occasionally, the musicians flaunted both their comfort with each other and their skills by diverging into brief percussive interludes that seemed effortless, with the keyboard player providing sparse backing vocals and Black occasionally hopping behind some gear to add another layer to the mix.
Black Milk's interaction with the audience was laid back and unpretentious, gently chiding one attendee for requesting a song he had already played and repeatedly hinting that crowd favourite "Losin' Out" was coming, which, of course, it finally did far into the show. As a sold-out crowd's worth of satisfied heads reluctantly lined up to retrieve their belongings from the mandatory coat check, the backing band allowed their outro to linger slightly, almost as if to alleviate the frustration.