The darkness draws on apace as I venture into the sanctuary of this unassuming venue, a place which never ceases to surprise me, conjuring intimacy and togetherness in its warm embrace.
I’m a little late for Miss Stone and have to creep in through the back door upstairs. I am instantly caressed by her husky tone and open-hearted vocal. Whilst dealing with some tuning-up issues, she tells us that she hails from Woodstock in New York, home of the long-fabled festival. She captures a feeling that takes your heart back to simpler times, infused with optimism and carefree attitude.
She humbly dedicates a tune written following her father’s death to the victims of the Paris attacks: ‘ Take me with you ’ is an understated gem, the phrase “the sweet brown of your eyes” revealing love’s purity and tangible memories. Her fingers pluck delicately on the strings of an acoustic, unaccompanied here, apart from towards the end of her endlessly charming performance.
She is disarmingly honest, which is refreshing and endears the audience to her person immediately. She fears change and is currently trying to embrace it and realises that everyone has to smile and have a reason to be here tonight and on this miraculous earth. In the ensuing songs, her voice transforms into a clarion call, all exquisite nuance and urgent, breathless intonations.
Her messages are simple, direct, appealing to your true self. On ‘Got it all’ she cries out “ Some day you wake up, you feel good, you don’t know why…..you’ll be the light in a world of grace.” Her folk background glimmers, shot through with a healthy dose of 1970’s soulfulness.
Album opener ‘Pyramid’ is quite the show-stopper. That voice again, cascading down in a multi-coloured waterfall of devotion, a little beaten and broken down by heartache and the harsh reality of day to day drudgery and some tortuous truths. Taking up a violin reveals the third dimension….
The songs trip on by and I’m reminded a little of Joni, Adriana Evans, even Erykah Badu. Most of all I witness a butterfly taking flight and bursting into brilliant splashes of colour. This is only the beginning….
Headliners Lau emerge from the shadows to a stage festooned with early yuletide lighting, twinkling fairy-like. Their opening chords are motoric, propulsive, a fiddle stretched and plucked, a guitar neatly strummed, percussion gently hammered. Is this folk, electronica, a new breed of expression? As a listener, I am often lost in a speechless reverie, my mind full of images, ships, infinite landscapes and layers of beauty. This trio create a tapestry of sound so rich, so deeply atmospheric you can almost taste it. They cohere in complete harmony.
‘Torsa’ comes from the Vikings, their soaring melodies the perfect antidote to the horror of the last 48 hours. I can’t remove the scene – guillemots, gulls, seas, wind on my face, battered but not defeated, not ever. Their inspiration is inexhaustible, pulling elation to a cinematic level. This is music as art, scales falling from your eyes. You can almost feel healed by this.
Lau’s interplay is almost supernatural, where syncopation and a hyper-dynamic take hold and propel us all into the future with hands up , saluting. You, yes you, want to reach into the music, feel this experience on a fundamental level, strip your being back to its basics, then REJOICE!!! Lau’s existence is a metaphor for music’s beating, throbbing heart.
‘Midnight Feast’ finishes too soon then elides to ‘ The Death of the Dining car’, elegiac, a subtle switch to the plinking of machinery, a tune evolving, layered, jazz-like. The on-going dialogue between our players is bewitching as the words swirl and take form – “ This new place I called my home / I lost the urge to be by myself”. The intensity is palpable.
“Ghosts” plays out even more poignantly against the backdrop of the current refugee crisis (“I was born here/ Where would I go?”), whilst ‘Sea’ delivers with descending chord changes, downshifting as every chord echoes in the half-light.
Before leaving the stage, they construct a phenomenal version of “The Bell that never rang ”: epic, sustained, heart-rending. The closing sequence bleeds synergy, the repeated refrain confronting mortality and loneliness with melancholy – “Nobody knows when you’re gone and no-one thinks to tell you…”
The clapping and demands are deafening, so they linger a little longer, leaving us with the pulse of ‘Far from Portland’ (from the ‘Race the Loser’ LP); the audience has found shelter, safety in shared humanity, dignity and the hungry integrity of this incredible band. They reign, original, supreme, undefeated.