Neil Dowd takes us into the crowd at Philip’s latest London gig.
Upon first arriving at the appropriatelynamed venue, The Victoria, confusion quickly arose due to the lack of musical equipment or staging in the main bar area and the absence of any foreseeable entrance to a venue space. With hindsight, I now know that this is the venue’s intention.
The live music space is hidden behind a secret door, subtly disguised as part of the bookshelves, positioned to the left of the bar. While this is a brilliant way of dividing the live venue from the bar for the local clientele, it also added a unique flare, immediately taking everyone who came across it off guard.
The live music room itself was a long and narrow space, which was minimally lit by the stage lighting. Looking at the
it was immediately clear that Philip had gone the extra mile to embellish his colourful and welcoming personality, wrapping yellow tulips around the visible mic stands. This attention to detail and DIY craftsmanship helped to give the venue a calming vibe, cohesive with Philip’s soothing dream-pop music, with this charming statement of self-expression highlighting the elements that make him so easily likeable.
His musically cohesive set went one step further to present Philip’s strong sense of self as an artist. Swelling, ambient synthesisers played through a backing track opened the set, quickly being accompanied by harmonised, legato underlying vocals,which only perpetuated the calming atmosphere created by the synthesiser.
However, whilst much of the set revolved around this atmosphere, moments like the indie inspired track ‘Hannah’ allowed Brooks and his band to unleash their energetic side. The roaring, distorted, straight-strummed guitars accompanied Philip’s frantic jumps along with the fast tempo of the track. This, combined with the warming effect,subtly layered into the guitar and synthesiser tones, brought forward a vintage soundscape which evoked a feeling of nostalgia from the listener.
Another noteworthy element of Brooks’ set was the consistency of his vocal pitching throughout the show; ‘Can’t Fix’was a track that heavily called attention to this, with Philip effortlessly flipping between chest voice and falsetto on the track’s opening chorus. This vocal technique further embellished the distant, floating feeling that is essential in a dream-pop instrumental.
The 1975-inspired ‘Spend Some Time Alone Inside My Head’ was also a defiant highlight of the set which played upon the aforementioned vocal technique.
The pulsating bass notes during the verse and the sustained chords on the synthesisers created a strong 80’s vibe, further strengthening the ‘timeless/vintage’ aesthetic, prominent across the singers branding.
Much like ‘Spend Some Time Alone Inside My Head’, tracks such as ‘If We Stay’ and‘Honey, Let’s Just Drive’ showcased Philip at his most emotionally vulnerable and hisfans at their most engaged. The lyrical content of these songs touch upon Brooks’ personal experiences with his sexuality and delve into his experiences with living with depersonalisation disorder.
What made these moments so captivating was Brooks’ visceral audience interaction, wherein he shared the anecdotes behind the songs’ lyrical messages before playing them. His heart-on-hissleeve honesty mixed with the timid, yet incredibly endearing demeanour, whilst discussing these topics, only made these moments feel more special. The audience’s electrifying cheers in response to Brooks’ words and their avid singing along with the tracks created a safe space for every person in that room that had been affected by similar issues, truly affirming just why the discussion of these topics is so important.
Even amongst the raw vulnerability that defines Philip Brooks, the singer was still able to maintain this level of comfort and self-assurance that bled through in his on-stage interactions with his band mates. This translated through simple glances or smiles at one another, or laughter during a song in which Philip’s frantic jumping caused him to subtly trip on the bass drum.
The visible enjoyment and happiness from everyone on-stage created such a friendly and soothing atmosphere that was infectious for the audience. From these simple exchanges to the band’s united bow which ended the set, this energy only furthered the feeling of emotional security that much of the crowd shared, embeddingthe idea that it is okay not to be okay and that it is okay to discuss these things.
“It’s a bit sad, but aren’t we all?” a passing comment made by the introverted dream-popper, prior to playing the final song of this set. However, the sentiments expressed through these words are, what I feel to be the underlying ideology behind Brooks’ emotionally raw and authentic lyrical content and his entire project as a whole.
The action of addressing the topics of mental health and the demons these issues entail creates a great deal of vulnerability but takes an even greater amount of bravery. And on this night, in the rustic, darkened venue hidden behind the main bar, the audience full of people devotedly singing along to every word, it was a testimony to how one artist’s ability to discuss these demons through their music can do so much to make so many people who feel this same way feel a little less alone.