Hammersmith Palais, London, Sunday 26th November 2006 concert review by George Luke
Heaving masses of born-again ravers turned the Hammersmith Palais into
a big holy sweatbox last Sunday evening. It was Kirk Franklin's first "real"
London gig since his Brixton Academy gig seven years (I'm not counting the ones he did for certain London-based mega-churches in between) and a flying visit on his way to Nigeria. Support came from Witness (who laid on a coach to bring other Brummie fans to London for the gig), Roger Samuels and Watchman. Now, I know support acts usually get a bum deal when they play major league concerts, but having three of them and then only letting them do a measly two songs each was just plain wrong. Still, they gave their best in what little time they had and I could easily have gone home after seeing Roger Samuels without feeling that I'd missed anything. The man has a powerful voice and stage presence to spare. His time cannot be far away.
Kirk had the audience eating out of his hands from the moment he walked on stage. "Last time I came here, I left my heart," he told the crowd. "And my heart's been missing me ever since." For the next two hours, he strutted about the stage while his band worked their way through a load of funk grooves lifted straight out of your dad's record collection. All the favourites were wheeled out: "Stomp", "Revolution", his recent disco throwback, "Looking For You", "Hosanna" and his cover of "Lovely Day". "Why We Sing" and "My Life Is In Your Hands" have always sounded identical to me; it's even harder to tell them apart when they're being sung by a roomful of adoring fans. At one point, an electric piano was wheeled onto centre stage and Kirk took a break from dancing to play a few of his earliest hits. Along the way, a few members of his backing choir did turns as soloists - amongst them Isaac "Ike" Carree, taking a break from his regular gig as one-third of the group Men Of Standard.
Part of Kirk's appeal is the way he flows between being a showman and being a minister and makes it all look seemingly effortless. His willingness to be open about "all the drama" in his personal life also helped - especially when he talked about his sister being on the run from the law, and with the song "Let It Go", chronicling his troubled childhood and the beginnings of the pornography addiction he broke free from five years ago (though it was a bit disconcerting hearing all those diehard black gospel fans sing along loudly to "Shout" by Tears For Fears!).
It wouldn't have been the full "church" experience without a little
audience participation, so Kirk got the men in the house ("every man
who has a job, is faithful to one woman, and takes care of his kids")
to make some noise.
He then got the ladies to "look their babydaddies in the eye" and do likewise. By the end, he'd got the entire audience to find three people they'd never met before, give them a hug and a few words of encouragement. A hot nightclub full of people hugging complete strangers - with no Ecstasy in sight? Miracles do happen!