An electric set as opposed to the acoustic session I last saw, Joan as Police Woman genuinely seems to enjoy playing Oran Mor, and the venue enjoys it right back at her.
“The Deep Field” is the new album she’s showcasing, and it’s typically edgy and raucous, and manages to be very danceable but very left field at the same time. It’s a trick she does exceptionally well, especially in “The Magic”, which is sensuous and erudite and hipswaying all at once, while “Run For Love” is wild and beautifully distorted. She also does a cracking, full-throated version of “Save Me” from her first album. But she changes pace at the flick of a switch: “Flash” – which she previewed last time – is here restrained, like having a sexual itch while being strapped up in a straitjacket, and she is at her most wistful on “Forever and a Year”.
There are a couple of less successful numbers – “Eternal Flame” is a remarkably complex melody and doesn’t quite hit the mark – and early in the set the sound balance is all wrong, drowning that fantastic voice of hers. She also encores with two ballads, leaving the feeling that the evening could have ended with a real high point: there are cries for “Christobel” and, while I’m sure she’s fed up playing it, it would have sent the audience out on twinkle toes. However, she’s more than worth seeing again and again, especially if she continues to flirt with the audience while dressed in slash-backed leather jumpsuits and kitten heels.
Mmmm… kitten heels….
Okay, I’m a bloke, so it’s time for an end of year lists. I know, really dull, but it’s my blog!
Favourite concert 1: James McMurtry, Oran Mor, January.
McMurtry is one of the great chroniclers of the blue collar Midwest. Steeped in rage against heartless capitalism and the vicious slaughter of the dirt poor in war, his songs are heartbreaking. I defy anyone to listen to “Hurricane Party”, “Ruby and Carlos” or “Holiday” and not burn for the disadvantaged who suffer the carnage caused by corporate America. Scathing poetry of destitution, wrapped up in beautiful music. McMurtry has a few of his backing band with him: it’s ironic that they are called “The Heartless Bastards”, because you’ll never hear music with more heart anywhere.
Favourite concert 2: Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba at Queen’s Hall, April.
The ngoni looks like a beaten up cricket bat with two bits of fishing line tied along its length, but in the hands of these guys, it produces the most exciting music I’ve ever heard. Breathtaking virtuosity and energy in abundance, along with the delights of Kouyate’s wife Amy Sacko on lead vocals. The finest desert blues available.
Favourite one-off song: Joan as Police Woman, “Keeper of the Flame”, Oran Mor, October.
See my earlier blog review. The final song of the night was the most beautifully sung eight minutes I’ve ever heard. I walked out into the night in a daze.
Best vocal performance: Mor Karbasi, The Voodoo Rooms, June.
Karbasi is a 23-year old Israeli singer with a 2000-year old soul. Accompanied by her partner Joe Taylor, percussionist Andres Ticino and fantastic guitarist Jorge Bravo, her renditions of Sephardic and Ladino songs are gorgeous. Who cares if (a) you don’t understand them and (b) you know they’re all about menfolk going fishing anyway?
Most eccentric concert: Richard Thompson, 1000 years of popular music, Concert Hall, January.
Trust Thompson to take an invitation from Playboy in 1999 to nominate his favourite ten songs of the “past millennium” literally. Of course, they weren’t interested at all in the last 1000 years, and wanted the predictable re-run of The Beatles and Michael Jackson numbers: so when Thompson’s list of Olde English and Victorian music hall masterpieces was rejected, he beefed up the repertoire and has been taking it on intermittent tour for the last few years. Accompanied by the excellent Judith Owen and Debra Dobkin, it’s great to hear catchy old numbers like “Summer is a-cumin in” again, as well as the grizzled old git doing Britney’s “Oops, I did it again”. Great fun. Good for him.
Most sickeningly youthful performance: The Whispertown 2000, The Captain’s Rest, October.
This young LA foursome’s latest album, “Swim”, is a fantastic, scuzzy, swing-hop-skiffle clatter, and the performance is similarly and joyfully shambolic. Songs don’t finish: they rattle to a hirple before picking up and bashing off into another tune. Even at my age, I’m afraid I have to be very rude about Morgan Nagler, the lead singer. She’s the kind of girl you imagine drinking lemonade on her front stoop, and if she invites you into the secret places in her cool dark house, you just know you’re going to come out an hour later happy, dazed and much, much wiser. A smashing wee band.
“Storia, Storia” by Mayra Andrade. Anything following up “Navega” was going to be welcome, but “Storia, Storia” is fantastic. Cool and elegant Cape Verdean grooves from possibly the most beautiful young woman in music today.
“Here Come the Vikings” by Astrid Williamson.
Again, a long awaited follow up, this time to “Day of the Lone Wolf”. Williamson, from Shetland, is at her best with slow, lust-laden trip-hop, and “How You Take My Breath Away” and “Slake” are among her best. Just gorgeous. The music is too.
“The Hollow Way” by Genevieve Maynard and the Tallboys.
A huge surprise, downloaded on the off-chance from e-music. Great lyrics and cracking tunes, every one memorable: the bookends of the album, “Ripped” and “Take Me Home”, are stunning. Aussie Maynard has a brilliant voice, and I’ll be looking out for more.
“Written in Chalk” by Buddy and Julie Miller
Americana at its finest. Rattling good tunes and a great contrast between the guttural Buddy and the more ethereal Julie. On vinyl, this is a cracking production, as good as “Raising Sands” by Robert Plant (who guests on this album) and Alison Krauss, one of my favourite albums of the decade.
Oh, and I think Lady Gaga’s the saviour of pop music too!
I’ve never really got Antony and the Johnsons. Hegarty has, to be sure, a rare and beautiful voice, but all that emoting all over the place just leaves me kinda cold; I once tried to count the number of times the word “cry” and variations thereof are used on his latest album, “The Crying Light”, and had to give up. Added to that is the whiff of elitism, of avant garde exclusivity, that permeates some of his work and that of his acolytes, such as the seriously deranged but oddly compelling Coco Rosie, that doesn’t sit easily with a blue-collar-bred West of Scotland boy like me. I expect him to be Anthony, and to front The Johnstones.
One time Johnson Joan Wasser, though, I do get. What appeals to me most is her pop sensibility, heard clearly in the perfect riffs of the sublime “Christobel” – a song that makes your nuts want to dance if ever there was one and if you happen to have them – and “I Defy”, in which she duets with Hegarty. Neither of these songs from her first album, “Real Life”, appear tonight, nor does “Start of My Heart“, doing the rounds on YouTube with it’s gorgeous Sinead O’Connor-like video; but just to establish her pop princess credentials, second up in the set is a cover of Britney Spears’ “Overprotected”, and the opportunities to dance come thick and fast thereafter.
Then there’s that voice. It’s a magnificent and rich instrument of real soul and fuck knows how many octaves. Given full reign in “Fire” or “Save Me”, it’s nakedly sexual, while growling and wailing through Iggy Pop’s “Baby” reveals its malicious possibilities. But it’s probably at its most arresting when it’s used sparingly and with precision: “The Human Condition” and, especially, “Flash” are so restrained and perfect any extraneous noise might shatter them. She is capable of immense delicacy.
She lets nothing stand in the way of the music, either. Just her, Timo Ellis and an hissy 4-track cassette machine that refuses to sanitise the experience (she describes its sound “Like skin” to a delighted audience). This is down and dirty stuff. And all the better for it.
There are a couple of misses amongst the hits, and glitches with the technology that stilt the early numbers. However, as the boorish Oran Mor staff try to rush her off stage and clear the hall for the no doubt equally boorish nightclub to take her place, Wasser finishes with an experience much like being hit in a nice way with a baseball bat. She was Jeff Buckley’s girlfriend at the time of his death in 1997 and joining Antony and the Johnsons in 1999, she says, saved her life. I wouldn’t dare to presume that that backstory informs her performance of “Keeper of the Flame”, but something very, very poignant is going on. Accompanied by her guitar and a stunning baritone ukulele solo by Ellis, it is the most unutterably beautiful vocal performance I have ever heard by anyone, anywhere, anytime. That good.