Last time we caught Sweet Baboo aka Stephen Black on the live stage he was performing bass duties at Manchester’s Deaf Institute for curious LA supergroup DRINKS, fronted by White Fence’s Tim Presley and Cate le Bon.

However, Black is not a man to be distracted by a side project and within a matter of months he has treated us to his sixth studio album, Wild Imagination.

The record is a typically stark change in direction from 2015’s Boombox Balladsfeaturing voyages into more danceable disco and funk territory – perhaps not what some fans may have come to expect from a songwriter who often comes across as being rather introverted.

It’s a more streamlined setup compared to past tours as well, with Black’s band having been reduced to a three-piece. That is certainly not to suggest that they are in any way restricted, however, with each musician boasting an impressive level of versatility.

Black himself swaps between guitar, bass and keys, while various synths, drums and backing vocal duties from his pair of bandmates make for an impressive evening of instrument-juggling. The frontman makes a typically dry-witted reference to the uptake in “lead logistics”.

The more expansive sound that was found on 2013’s Ships (the record that got Far Out hooked to be honest) is reimagined in a stripped-back carnation – with the 50s rock ‘n’ roll-style piano that becomes the crux of ‘If I Died…’ proving a particular highlight.

The balance of deliberate awkwardness and warm humour that characterises Black’s interaction with the crowd almost brings as much to the show as the music itself sometimes – with set-ups like the one he gives to new track ‘Badminton’ carrying an endearing anecdote about early Wednesday morning sporting routines.

Just a few minutes in the company of Sweet Baboo and it tends to become pertinently clear he is anything but your ‘typical rockstar’ (whatever the hell that means anyway). However, as this late night Sunday show comes to a rapturous end, there isn’t a single audience member with the next morning’s grind in their head. At their dinning request, he returns for a glorious encore that proves him to be every inch the entertainer.  A spellbinding night.

Patrick Davies

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