“The world is a lot like London. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. There’s no morality or dishonour, just your own lonely code. Until your race is run. Until the end. Until we’re all just ghosts of the people we once thought we were.”
By the time Reggie Watts hits the stage
of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, everyone in the crowd has already
heard his voice – introducing both his opener, and himself – but
in an accent so unlike his own that most audience members don’t
realise it’s actually him.
But there’s no mistaking the guy when
he comes out, even with his hair up and with a considerably smaller
beard than we’re used to. From the moment he steps out, the crowd,
delighted by his mere presence, are with him. He makes it impossible
not to be with him, as he’s such a likeable and charismatic
performer. Throughout his improvised monologues, he makes nonsense
the funniest thing imaginable with his deadpan delivery. “I know
you guys like fish here. But just take a suggestion: try chips with
it. I know what you’re thinking: ‘No!! Boo!’. But it’s a good source
of starch”, Reggie says with an earnestness that makes everything
doubly funny. He throws out nonsense names of people and places in a
Tim and Eric-esque manner, and discusses how certain political
parties lost in the UK because they didn’t build efficient enough
spacecrafts. It’s him turning typical stage banter on its head and
making you think about how dumb everything really is. But in a smart way.
The songs, which the evening is centred
around, are genuinely thrilling and spontaneously hilarious. Hearing
his skills on his looping recorder, as well as his beatboxing is
exciting beyond belief, especially with the knowledge that what
you’re hearing has never been heard before, and won’t be heard again.
He gets into brilliant flows where he can bring the house down simply
by talking gibberish in exaggerated voices (it’s impossible to ignore
that he is genuinely a brilliant R&B vocalist though), while
occasionally dropping in bits of actual words – like when a piece
segues into his love of spreading marmite on toast. It’s his musical
ability that makes everything funny. To hear his amazing voice and
from-scratch acapella backing tracks driving such ridiculous ideas is
nothing short of ingenious – it constructs, then deconstructs the
modern pop song, the satire being especially sharp when he perfectly
mimics particular vocal styles, or wonders why we call
women girls in songs instead of women.
His skills alone are stupendous, but
they’re doubled when he brings out the incredible Thundercat to jam
with him on bass. They play a few songs with impeccable skill, which
the audience are audibly riveted by – I usually hate people talking
during shows, but to the guy behind me who repeatedly said “Oh my
god. He is so, so talented” - I agree. The duo were amazing together and
the audience were happy to let terrific musicality take the spotlight
from the comedy in this stretch. Thundercat was a complete surprise
and I definitely did not keep my composure when Reggie called him to
come out, I was far too excited.
Reggie is also surprisingly current
this night, when he talks in earnest about the attack on London
Bridge last week, before apologising for Trump and later, performing
a great, Reggae-tinged song about Hung Parliament. The laughs in
these segments were laughs of catharsis and warmth, whether he was
waxing philosophical about how weird and wonderful it is to be a
person (his bit on how you will never objectively be able to see
yourself is kind of beautiful) or how weird
governments are as a concept.
“Remember, you are not defined by
your government”, Reggie says towards the end of the show. Everybody needed to hear that. It’s a
silly, human and loving show, one that felt like a relief for a bunch
of people after a few weeks of awful, horrible news.
Reggie’s art surpasses the label of being musical comedy tonight and
hits somewhere a bit deeper, and the deserved standing ovation at the
end of it is proof that this was a very special night indeed.
Note - A few fans waited by the stage door to
meet Reggie later, and luckily for us he came out to meet us, and
luckier still, he’s about the nicest man you’ll ever meet. Learning
everyone’s names, shaking hands, giving hugs, paying attention to
questions, he’s as kind offstage as he is on. He’s the real deal.
today’s tour of the Kray’s East End featuring: Pellicci’s Café, Vallance Road (the twins lived at number 178, which is now blocks of flats), St Matthew’s Church (where both Ronnie’s and Violet’s funerals were held), Repton Boxing Club, The Carpenters Arms and The Blind Beggar.