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As part of SMILEfest, Canadian and middle-aged hip hop artist Abdominal was at The Joiners to reignite what started out as a pretty dismal night. Jamming With Steve, an acoustic folk duo, were the first to support. Churning out a medley of emotive and Western inspired original tracks, through to covers of infamous Bob Marley  records such as ‘Three Little Birds’, they were not short of charisma. The set featured various impressive guitar solos and soulful vocals from both singers, but seemed a little old-fashioned for their age demographic, though talented nonetheless.

This was followed by an outlandishly cringe-worthy performance by white, middle-class rapper, Lawd Lav. Yes, ‘Lord’ spelt with ‘aw’. Here’s some insight into Lawd Lav: he raps about zombie apocalypses, cider, meaningless and hideously unfunny stories about being mortally drunk, and creates needless awkward interaction: “When I say ‘I don’t have a job’ you say: ‘Lazy bastard!'” A man in front of me turned around to express perfectly the pain we were all sharing simultaneously: “Am I dreaming right now?” No sir, you were not. A personal favourite line of mine was during the abysmal song that was ‘Ode to Alcohol’: “Keep drinking Guinness until it gives you the shits!” Not quite Eminem standard yet but you can’t fault the guy for getting up on stage and doing what he loves. Or can you?

Once the debacle of the Lawd reached its eventual and long-awaited end, Abdominal, whilst on his UK tour with his live band The Obliques, saved the show. The 41 year-old, wearing a tartan farmer cap, was gifted a measly crowd with a peak of around 25 people, intimate being an understatement, and an over-enthusiastic punter with a consistent screech reminiscent of a crow. Despite the previous stagnant atmosphere and a complete lunatic heckling throughout the set, he pulled off a sweet, smooth and class performance with sheer professionalism, maintaining his threatened composure at all times.

Abdominal totally transformed an arena full of unimpressed and pessimistic energy, into an energetic and optimistic vibe which was a breath of fresh air. The Obliques were faultless as well, similar to the jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD, transitioning between each instrument beautifully and crafting an effective platform for Abdominal to thrive on with his feel good rhymes. They were diverse in terms of production, ranging from tinges of blues to funky jazz, with snippets of James Brown influences. Abdominal often experimented with his flow, especially on the track ‘Breath Later’, that was demanded by the crowd, gradually building up the pace. He also performed a bolshie ‘Jesus Gonna Be Here’ and a powerful song dedicated to their hometown, Toronto, which they declared were suffering home sickness from.

An eventful night to say the least, which saw the headliners conquer the stage and certainly put their stamp on Southampton. Abdominal and The Obliques helped resurrect some of the old spirit of live music the venue embraces; it was a shame there wasn’t a bigger crowd to appreciate it.

Benji Reeves

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