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Van Hunt at Amoeba, Sunday October 16th, Reviewed

I was listening to the wrong album! Before going to Van Hunt’s early in-store performance at Amoeba on Sunday afternoon (he played a short set before his big show at the Troubadour the same night), I listened to one of his albums ‘On the Jungle Floor’, on Spotify, and, with that R&B vibe mixed with some funky rhythms, I thought I had him all figured out.

I was totally wrong, but I could not have known that Van Hunt had gradually shifted from his R&B roots to some sort of … well, stuff quite hard to describe, a sort of fast psychedelic R&B injected of chaotic punk-rock. He still sings with these soulful vocals, but what I heard at Amoeba was surprisingly not the music I was expecting.

With lots of synths and pedals, Van Hunt and his three musicians had this unique way to install a sort of sonic freaking out trip, still using something from R&B or funk, but at the same time, extremely disconcerting, jazz-like, taking unexpected turns, completely unclassifiable, sometimes aggressive with punk rhythms. On some songs, the girl behind him was drumming so fast, that she was almost bringing a hardcore punk style in the middle of this turned-mad-R&B-psychedelia, a little like a two-voice gospelish choir going on a bad acid trip.

You have to wonder what happened between his 2006 ‘On the Jungle Floor’ album and his recently released album ‘What were you hoping for?’ Actually, Hunt was about to release his third album, ‘Popular’, in 2008, but he saw it shelved by his label, Blue Note, because the record was judged too experimental and aggressive, and not part of what they wanted. He recorded his new one on his own Godless Hotspot records and feels now free to pursue this new stylistic approach, a weird deconstruction of psychedelia, punk, jazz, soul and funk.
The songs he played sounded very diverse, because rich in influences, like the funky ‘Eyes like Pearls’, the fast and mean rocker ‘Watching you go crazy is driving me insane’, and the funky and heavily distorted ‘North Hollywood’, an ode to his neighborhood, with which he closed the show.

At the end, this transformation could have been prefigured, as Van Hunt had already recorded a soulful version of Iggy Pop’s ‘No sense of Crime’ on his ‘On the Jungle Floor’ album, … and it is not this often that soul-funk embraces punk so naturally.

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