Following a six year hiatus, Kula Shaker returned this year with their sixth album, 1st Congregational Church Of Eternal Love And Free Hugs, which is probably their best to date and fuelled excitement amongst fans to see the quartet live again.
Support came from Bristolian DIY punk/rock duo Bucky whose members consist of frontman and vocalist Simon Roberts and drummer Joff Winterhar. While musically separated from Kula Shaker, Bucky wrote and performed “33 Crows” which Kula Shaker reinterpreted for their 2016 fifth LP, K2.0.
Keeping to the theme of the new conceptual Kula Shaker album, a recording by Jane Stanness, who voices the choir mistress, made an announcement that, “The Evensong service for the 1st Congregational Church Of Eternal Love And Free Hugs will begin in five minutes”. This served as a great galvaniser to get those standing to move closer to the front of the stage.
Seven minutes later the stage went black and soothing choral music began to play which then blended into the introduction of Kula Shaker’s K classic “Govinda”. Then there was light, and Kula Shaker played their highest charting single from K, “Hey Dude”. “Sound of Drums”, the highest charting single from Kula Shaker’s sophomore LP, Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts followed. There was a close shave scenario during the performance at the beginning of this song when one of the drums to drummer Paul Winterhart’s right fell over. Thankfully organist Harry Broadbent was able to step in and help put it back in time to play the organ arrangements to “Sound of Drums”. Despite the initial hiccup, Kula Shaker’s “Sound of Drums” performance was flawless.
With a new LP containing some of the best material Kula Shaker has produced to date, the band showcased six songs from 1st Congregational Church Of Eternal Love And Free Hugs, beginning with “Whatever It is (I’m Against It)” which brought the same sense of elation and ecstasy as the first half of “Grateful When You’re Dead / Jerry Was There”, which Kula Shaker also performed. “Hometown” followed and with its infectious jangly rock guitar intro and war and post-war spirit further elevated the joy inside the Alexandra Palace Theatre.
The infectious captivation of new material continued with bassist Alonza Bevan’s composition “Gingerbread Man” which, despite frontman Crispian Mills saying was difficult to play live, Mills made look easy. The other new songs included the sad, heartfelt love song, “Love In Separation” with its equally melancholy lyrics, “Feels like nothing will last forever nothing but this pain I gave up my soul possession I gave up on asking why why, why, why, baby goodbye now every bird must fly. So bye, bye, bye, baby goodbye”.
As well as the innovative prog leaning, “The Once and Future King”, the song that got the most audience participation was “Farewell Beautiful Dreamer”. Whether it was the fact this song contained old English, after being prompted by Crispian, the audience enthusiastically and passionately repeatedly sang back “tra la la, la la la la la” on cue.
From the new material Kula Shaker also played “Narayan” which Crispian wrote with the Prodigy. Crispian also sang on the Prodigy’s classic Fat of the Land LP which Kula Shaker then reworked on their own third album, Strangefolk. What made this rendition special was the inclusion of lyrics from both versions as well as the reimagined dance, and borderline disco beats intro. There was also crowd euphoria when Kula Shaker played the lead song from K2.0 “Infinite Sun”.
The majority of the latter sections of the set consisted of K and Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts as well as standalone single “Hush” which was played before the encore. The stomping and cheering that commenced during the encore was a testament to the performance and order of play selected by Kula Shaker. For an encore they returned playing “Knight on the Town” which Crispian wrote in Liverpool and finished with a song they teased with at the start of their set, “Govinda”. More than twenty-five years since its release, the audience still clearly enjoyed singing the chorus to this song back the most.
The inclusion of other classic songs including “Shower your Love”, “303” and a well-received extended version of “Tattva” undoubtedly served the needs of a crowd who had been starved of Kula Shaker for six years. From satisfying halcyon memories, Kula Shaker adroitly embraced new technology with a circular screen on the stage displaying church themes holograms along with other stunning visuals. While they are not the first band to do this, Kula Shaker are one of the few bands who were able to use his technology without diverting attention and mobile phone cameras away from themselves. After all, Crispian’s incredible stage presence, from playing mesmerising guitar solos to his ability to shake his hair, cannot be replaced by an LED visual. Other artists should take note.