Review: Sampha makes spectacular return with soulful journey through time and space at Auckland's Powerstation

UK singer-producer Sampha took Auckland's Powerstation on a journey through time and space.
UK singer-producer Sampha took Auckland's Powerstation on a journey through time and space. Photo credit: Tom Grut

Step into the realm of rhythm and resonance; it was more than just a concert - it was a voyage transcending time and space.

Arriving back in NZ for the first time since 2017, the R&B hit-maker from the UK Sampha took up at Auckland’s Powerstation for a sold-out spectacle before performing at Splore Festival on Saturday. The intimate venue was perfect for the songs that spilt out like a diary, with the packed and polite crowd hanging on every note.

Hypnotic synths painted a sci-fi dreamscape over venue anticipation hung through the air before Sampha himself came out dancing. The set opened strong with Plastic 100C. But anyone who has streamed the song a million times has yet to hear it quite like this. Known for not always staying entirely faithful to recorded tracks, Sampha breathed new, joyful life into the familiar song. Sometimes, you just have to go where the mood takes you - and tonight's mood was celebratory.

Sampha's latest album, 'Lahai' is what brought him back to our shores. The very long-awaited 2023 release follows up the soulful yet wistful Mercury Prize-winning 'Process', which was peppered through the set. Addressing the crowd, the singer/producer said it had been "too long" and was "glad to be back in our beautiful country". The most well-meaning heckler screamed out, "I LOVE YOU, SAMPHA!" while the musician poured his thanks on the audience for all the support.

Ever the gentleman, he introduced the band: Ruthven on percussion, Elsas Hackett on keys, Rosetta Carr on bass and Blake Cascoe on drums, before delving back into the musical odyssey.

With the celestial echoes and staccatos of 'Satellite Business' (an absolute highlight) and 'Suspended', Sampha delivered the night's first taste of 'Lahai'. The euphoric mood of the album only became more present in its live performance, and it was infectious, with crowds two-stepping and shimmying along.

The Auckland audience was uncharacteristically quiet as Sampha openly lamented strained relationships with 'Inclination Compass'.
The Auckland audience was uncharacteristically quiet as Sampha openly lamented strained relationships with 'Inclination Compass'. Photo credit: Tom Grut

The stage was no-fuss, with Sampha on a raised platform with a laptop and keyboard overlooking his band and nothing but golden lights "like sun rays through a flying cloud" to compliment his soulful, honeyed voice. While the set-up seemed humble, Sampha wasn't hiding behind his instruments. As the beats dipped and ascended, he couldn't help but make his way centre stage for a feel-good boogie and the odd handshake.

While the crowd reciprocated the energy, dancing and jiving, the Auckland audience was uncharacteristically quiet as the singer-producer openly lamented strained relationships with 'Inclination Compass'.

Throwing it back to his 2013 EP 'Dual', the musicians crowded to the corner of the stage for a funk-filled drum circle, leading into the percussion-heavy and jittery 'Without'. The soul-stirring rhythm was a captivating, collaborative symphony. 

The agitated drums persisted through the other-worldly sonics of 'Stereo Colour Cloud (Shaman's Dream)' before arriving at a track many had been waiting for: 'Spirit 2.0'. 'Lahai's' themes of uplifting, faith, flight and family weren't lost with this fan-favourite track, with the crowd compelled to join in the chorus. It was certainly a high point.

The energy was balanced with more sombre, unburdening, stripped-back performances of 'Too Much' and '(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano'. Each note an ode to his musical journey starting in childhood

The sci-fi accoutrements of 'Dancing Circles' (a personal favourite) and 'Can't Go Back' were contrasted with the prayer-like lyrics of 'Can't Get Close', bringing a new level of introspection and yearning, the hymn-like backing vocals having us all metaphorically kneeling at the pews. 

The night ended on the bold, lashing behemoth of 'Blood On Me'. Red lights illustrated the fight or flight reactions of the propulsive and desperate beats. It's a hit, and of course, the audience loved it so much that Sampha's grateful farewells were - at least from where I was standing - completely drowned out by cheering. 

But fans were still left wanting more. Among the chanting of 'encore' and 'one more song', one guy who seemed to be having a rather boozy time was yelling against the crowd "play 'Only'". 


Had he not played that? Unless I was mistaken, the popular 'Lahai' track has been left off the setlist.

Obliging his supporters' calls, Sampha returned for just one more song - the beautiful, angelic solo performance of 'Happens'. And while it may not have been the most upbeat song, it was certainly a perfect piece to close.