The Humans – Toyah Willcox
Last night’s show at Highline Ballroom, featuring The Humans with Kid Savant, was a much different show than what I usually go to. Mostly because instead of an open floor in front of the stage, there were rows of tables occupied of couples having drinks and small dinner plates. Nothing wrong with dinner and a show, but having a sit down for a band of seasoned rockers creates a completely different vibe.
For Kid Savant, this may not have been the most optimal atmosphere. I ended up only catching the tail end of their set, and while they attempted a certain level of energy, the response in the room felt cold and uninspired. The band’s electronic indie pop feels better suited for a space with room to move, and there was little movement going on here. Not that this was due to a lack of effort on their part. They had their screen backdrop with psychedelic images projected on it, like something Caribou would do, but it just didn’t translate to the crowd who came for something entirely different.
The Humans are an entirely different story. This is what the majority of the crowd was waiting for while they drank their cocktails and finished their assorted cheese plates. There still wasn’t any room for movement; everyone at a table stayed seated, but this was more like watching a low-key yet extremely intense interpretive performance.
The culmination of three incredibly experienced and talented musicians made everything else fade into the background, and it was obvious that all eyes were on them with undivided attention. Singer/songwriter and actress Toyah Willcox has honed her craft for over 30 years, and it shows. She uses her theatrical background to interpret her lyrics in a way that completely commands the stage. She exudes personality in her performance that no doubt resonates from her old school punk days combined with a more refined maturity. She’s not afraid to experiment with lyrical delivery, using her voice as both an instrument and an art form in itself. On the more understated songs like “Love in a Different Way” and “Quicksilver,” her vocals pack a slow, quietly intense punch that is always perfectly controlled. This makes the songs ones that firmly grip you, only releasing tension when the song is over, and by that time you want to do that again with the next song.
Of course, bassists Bill Rieflin and Chris Wong, who are just as seasoned, contribute greatly to this. They excel at keeping the pulsating subtle waves when the song calls for it, as well as grunging out on the heavier numbers. They feed off each other extremely well, and many times during the set they squarely faced each other from either side of Toyah, grinning and melding their coinciding bass lines impeccably. Chris switched to guitar for “Telekinesis,” and finger tapped and soloed the hell out of it. He really is pretty badass. And while Robert Fripp wasn’t there, The Humans did have a guitarist at the back of the stage to fill in on his parts, as well as take care of electronic and drum flourishes throughout the set.
Around the second to last song of the set, Toyah exclaimed, “It’s getting close to the end of my set and I don’t want it to end!” I’m sure they could have played for longer, but all good things come to an end, and when the band walked off the stage the applause didn’t stop. “More!” a crowd member yelled. The Humans hopped back up on the stage and played their rendition of “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” to unquestionable approval, before humbly bowing and grinning, then ducking back into the green room for good.
Toyah Willcox and Bill Rieflin
The Humans are heading back to the UK for the rest of their tour – check out all dates on their website, and you can get news updates about the band on Toyah’s Facebook. Kid Savant’s next show is their record release party at Knitting Factory on Oct. 14th. You can hear more of their tunes on their Bandcamp.
All photos (c) Kelly Knapp