Nina Nastasia and O'Death

  • London
  • United Kingdom
  • The Roundhouse
  • 2008-08-13

For several weeks under the ‘Colour Your Summer’ banner The Roundhouse draped huge curtains down to enclose a smaller space within the pillars and used cabaret-style tables in front of the stage with small tiers of seating circled behind, creating a more intimate club-style venue — more fitting perhaps for a one woman show. Though the evenings proceedings were set off by the rather louder O’death.

Over a year since the band’s UK debut Head Home the band were out in support of their follow-up Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skins, which is soon to be released over here. Material appeared from the predecessor, including the rabble-rouser “Lay Down”, though much was aired from the upcoming — which appears to continue the characteristic range of moods, with the old-time bluegrass thing put through the stylistic ringer. The intimate folk ballads appeared less frequent than the full on gypsy stomp so the band were more often dancing around, sometimes frantically with their fiddles and yelps, which seemed at some points strange for a fully seated crowd, although they generated sweat enough for everyone.

the songs excel at offering both a haunting fragility and striking sense of power

Nina Nastasia’s last London show was characterised by what can be a quite informal stage demeanour, chatting amusingly to the crowd and taking requests to make up an unwritten set-list — though with perhaps too much chat and tuning the show was musically shorter than some had hoped. Here at The Roundhouse though there was time for it all, including over an hour of strong and emotive renditions of the singer’s alternatingly harder, dark or softer and light material. With four albums of solo work and her collaborative effort with Jim White Nastasia had plenty to pick from and early on quickly moved from song to song. As the set progressed though she opened up with more of the dry-witted conversation for which she is known, inviting the lighting desk operator to spin the spot light around the cabaret tables to pick one — just because she’d die of embarrassment if she was on a table picked by the light if the situation was the opposite way round — and elsewhere discussing a jumper she’d bought because it was cheap in a second-hand shop though probably wouldn’t wear, and then running out back to get it for one of the audience members who shouted that she’d take it. Another moment saw a new song need an overly-keen fan rush on stage to hold the lyrics sheet while the song was being performed, and there was even a comment, during tuning, about the previous show, and how she had though afterwards about refunding all attendees…

As amusing as she can be though, it is obviously Nastasia’s music which is the most engaging part of her show, and tonight she indeed captivated the crowd. The songs excel at offering both a haunting fragility and striking sense of power — at least in their characters admittance of faults if not musically in, for example, a move from whispered breath to stronger held notes in the vocals, with the guitar parts aiding the switch or just the carrying of mood accordingly. The songs lack nothing without the percussion or arrangements put to them on record, remaining as beautiful and perhaps even more evocative.

When the time came for letting the audience help her pick the encore set there was no shortage of song titles being thrown at her, and by picking “Underground” from Dogs, “Ugly Face” from The Blackened Air and “Bird of Cuzco” from On Leaving — material spread from three records and over nearly ten years of music — it became a great end to a great show from a still so undervalued performer.

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