REVIEW: Saba at Manchester Academy

Saba.

My man.

I’m really sorry for what’s about to come, but I’m all about the honesty. I’m sure you’ll respect that.

I was stupidly excited for this gig. Care For Me was, arguably, my favourite Hip Hop album of last year. Prom King was matched by very few songs. There are moments on the album that rank with the best releases in the genre in the last decade, the honesty and openness is something Hip Hop has needed for years, and the pacing is perfect. It’s a 10 out of 10.

I had wondered what your live show would be like but was reassured. I watched your Tiny Desk performance towards the end of 2018 and it was one of the best I have seen in that incredible series. It was special. The band that joined you brought the songs a new lease of life, you sat among them making it all look effortless. You managed to make me like your album even more.

You were going to play at Yes, Manchester’s most intriguing new venue. It was the perfect fit. I pictured you as you were on NPR, the lynchpin in the middle of a set of talented musicians.

It was going to be great.

But you moved the show to Academy 3. I understand. It might be a far inferior venue, but it does have space for 7 extra people.

Okay.

Now we have to talk about Dam Dam. Your DJ. His name is suitably Flintstone-like, considering all he did was tell us what city he comes from, ask us to put our hands in the air, and press a button that made an explosion noise. 700 times. Like a kid who hasn’t yet learnt to play the keyboard he got for Christmas.

You put out one of the most lyrically involving albums I have heard in years. Your story had me gripped. There’s so much truth in those ten songs. They are powerful enough to allow the listener to consider their own pasts, their losses, the grief they’ve suffered, the people they lost too soon. And the music is intricate, intelligent, inventive, and subtle.

But none of that was on show tonight.

Admittedly, most of the audience was in rapture. I stood with two other Picky Bastards and we wondered if we were watching the same show as everyone else in the room.

Sure, there were several moments when your skill was impossible to deny. You’re a fucking talent. Your flow is flawless and there were times when that was enough to mesmerise, despite the other issues with the show.

But I walked out of the Academy extremely disappointed. This wasn’t the show I’d expected. And maybe that’s on me, maybe I had watched that Tiny Desk show too many times and had been taken aback by the absolute contrast of what I was watching in a dingy Manchester room. Maybe.

Or maybe it was because an artist I respect so much for the sentiments of his album was happy to overlook those ideals if he could get a room full of pissed people to chant the word ‘girls’ back at him for what felt like an age.

But I won’t give up on you, mate. That album is still a belter, and I’ve seen an example of what your live show can be. Just bring the band the next time you come and see us. Please.

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