Live Review: The Go! Team – Roundhouse, London 10.02.2024

Don Blandford

“One, two, three, four, five!” The Go! Team do like to count. The maths that matters most tonight though is the twenty years that have passed since the release of their debut album – Thunder, Lightning, Strike.

So it’s pom poms at the ready because The Go! Team are back! Celebrating the anniversary of their Mercury nominated debut, the Brighton based collective play a sold-out headline show at the Roundhouse, Camden.

What a gorgeous cornucopia of sound it is. What could possibly have inspired founder Ian Parton to begin to make music as eclectic as this? It’s as if our Go! Team man was corrupted at an early age by exposure to too much Sesame Street and a passion for New York rope-ripping cool. There’s also explosive dance grooves, London hip hop and nods to the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack too. A happy hybrid.

The Go! Team are a cool, collaborative project led on stage by the dynamic presence of vocalist MC Ninja. The cynically indie may hear the records and doubt how the band could possibly recreate the sound on stage. They can. They do. This is, after all, The Go! Team.

Album opener Panther Dash goes off like a firework. It’s a sonic car chase with Parton’s harmonica adding melancholic moments to the bold as brass mood. Ninja’s matter of fact and familiar London accent then introduces the bouncy Motown fuelled Ladyflash – “Camden! How’re you doin’? We are The Go! Team! I want to see everyone dancing, you should know this one, everyone sing along and let’s see your dance moves!”  A wave of “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeahhh” ripples around the Roundhouse. Then it goes all Charlie Brown with the groovy Feelgood By Numbers – a shuffling instrumental with more of Parton’s charming harmonica and of course, a numerical countdown too.

Aside from Ninja and Ian, there are several musicians on stage, playing guitar, keyboard, drums and brass – all vital components for the organic recreation of that sublime debut album. 

The Power Is On instantly transports Camden to a New York yard with the jump rope hip hop heart leading the cheerleading rush. It’s a complex composition. Like a double Dutch rope skipper, it requires immaculate timing. 

The Go! Team were honoured to have Get It Together used as a video game theme and Ninja proudly explains, “This next song, most people know it from a computer game, we’re honoured to have a song that made the theme tune to Little Big Planet…” – the track canters along and plays out with a folksy Western air wrapped with a Portishead style scratching fade out.

Halfway through this album playback and the impromptu clapping has started. The epic and absolute classic Junior Kickstart fills the room with fiesta brass and the flourishes of that harmonica add a delicious hint of John Barry. Ninja approves, “I like the claps!”. Imagine Public Service Broadcasting but with sass and personality!  Meanwhile, a drunk bloke shouts his request for the band to play Buy Nothing Day. I saw the setlist and he’s going to be disappointed but there are still plenty of classic Go! Team delights to follow.

MC Ninja is making more moves as she punches, jumps and kicks her way across the stage. Bottle Rocket adds extra urgency and Ninja raps like she’s straight out of the Bronx. Calmness descends with the sparse Friendship Update and Hold Yr Terror Close – both simple and sweet and reminiscent of Sesame Street. 

Thunder, Lightning, Strike is almost complete. The penultimate punch is fan favourite Huddle Formation. Ninja interacts naturally with the crowd, “”How you guys feeling? You feeling good? You’re looking good man! Pretty people out there. I see faces! I like people I see on Instagram – I like to spy!” She conducts everyone to join in the song, “Now I’m going to teach you some lyrics. I’m going to split you. Right! You ready for your lyrics? “Keep banging on the door, ’cause we can’t hear a thing, keep shutting down the power, ’cause we can always sing”. Ninja delivers this with all the style and confidence of Little Simz. Twenty years may have slipped by but she’s still on fire.

Overcome by the love in the room, Ninja reminisces whilst Ian plays a bluesy harmonica refrain in the background. “The first show we ever played was at Barfly – which used to be across the road from here – seven albums later…”. She also recalls their first festival, which was in Sweden, and how they ran out of songs to play, but the fans demanded “one more song”. Ninja explains, “I literally had to run on and say I’m really sorry we literally don’t have any more songs! So yes its a short album, but this is not gonna be a short set!” 

The album finale is “Dedicated to everyone in the room”. Ninja has another treat in store as she announces, “I’m gonna do something that I have never done in the twenty years of being in this band, I’m going crowd surfing – I trust you!” and she disappears into the sea of hands.

Ninja announces it’s now the longest set they’ve ever played and “The only two page set list we’ve ever made!”. That bloke shouts yet again for Buy Nothing Day but it’s time for a song from the new album Get Up Sequences Part Two with Ninja rapping on Whammy 0. Someone with long arms is requested to help Ninja with Mayday – to hold the giant phone she uses during the song, but she’s quick to keep the volunteer focused, “Stay on point sir, I’ve had some people who have got distracted!”.

The feel-good feeling keeps going right to the end. Third album title track Rolling Blackouts is one of MC Ninja’s favourites and it’s a big hit with the Camden faithful too! The night has been exhilarating. They’re not done yet and Ninja gathers her “ladies” and all her “fellas” in the crowd for a stunning rendition of Grip Like A Vice. Apart from Keys To The City this is the only track from their phenomenal second album Proof Of Youth – not enough and I’m almost as disappointed as the drunk bloke now! 

Having seen The Go! Team at various venues and festivals since 2004 this was the most confident, accomplished and lively set that Ninja, Ian and the mighty fine collective have produced. I remain a devoted cheerleader. During the gig Ninja spoke of being invited to join Jools Holland on Later some twenty years or so ago. She said, “We had to audition…I guess we were good enough!”.  I’ve done the maths. Yes Ninja, absolutely, it all adds up. Two, four, six, eight, ten…out of ten! They remain, very much – The Go! Team.

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