wears the trousers magazine

emilíana torrini: live at royal festival hall 13/09/09
September 20, 2009, 4:45 pm
Filed under: live, review | Tags: , , ,


Emilíana Torrini
Royal Festival Hall, London ••••½
September 13, 2009

“This is a gig that has been making me shit my pants these last few months,” chirps Emilíana during one of her many adorable rambles between songs as her band of dapper musicians retune. She might not have been joking either. For an artist whose last gigs in London were at ULU (800 capacity) and the Union Chapel (500 capacity), the near 3000-seater Royal Festival Hall is a dramatic upscale. Despite it being one of the Italo–Icelandic folk-pop singer’s most important, and no doubt intimidating, gigs of her career to date, she really needn’t have worried. While there were still a fair few empty seats, the audience were incredibly receptive and well behaved.

Still in the midst of touring her last year’s wonderful Me & Armini, the daunting task of filling the overly air-conditioned Royal Festival Hall wasn’t just a case of selling tickets; Emilíana had to take a band that had been orchestrated to fill small festival tents, churches and small club venues and turn them into a band capable of filling the room. With former Sugarcubes drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson doing the honours on the drums, occasional glockenspiel and other odds and sods, the band conformed to a tight yet playful routine. A basic stage set up featuring giant mobiles of birds hung on either side of the band, some pretty unfurling banners and a simple but effective light show made it more of an event than previous shows, but it was Emilíana’s banter and surprising choice of songs that kept the audience engrossed over her 100-minute set.

As well as her many vivid tales, most hilariously of getting mistaken for a “toilet pervert” when taking a photo of some interesting woodwork patterns in a service station cubicle, she dug deep into her back catalogue and unearthed some surprising lost gems. Since 2005’s Fisherman’s Woman, it has sometimes felt like Emilíana has long abandoned the debut that first put her on the map, 1999’s dreamy trip-pop Love In The Time Of Science; tonight however, and perhaps prompted by One Little Indian Records recent 10-year vinyl reissue of the album, we were treated to renditions of three songs from the album. ‘To Be Free’, ‘Tuna Fish’ and fan favourite ‘Unemployed In Summertime’ all sounded as fresh as ever with a slight band makeover and held up next to more recent classics such as ‘Heartstopper’ and the charming ‘Big Jumps’.

The musical evolution taking place across this tour is surprisingly most apparent on the more recent material. On record, ‘Gun’ is a steady, dark and broody four-minute march through Emilíana’s more sinister thoughts that never dips or peaks. Live though, the band get the rare opportunity to let rip and pull out the solo’s while Torrini practically headbangs her way through the carnage. It’s a thrilling moment, and one that must have gone down well with the Finnish fans she recently played for when the band were some how booked to play at a thrash metal festival in Finland. “Am-ayyyyzing!” is the word she uses to describe the sight of the long-haired metallers moshing along to the fragile ‘Today Has Been OK’ during one anecdote to the crowd. There was no moshing at the Royal Festival Hall of course, but the restrained swaying and rapturous applause certainly compensated.

While the irresistibly bouncy recent single ‘Jungle Drum’ (which recently celebrated 9 weeks at #1 in Germany) made the most of its fleshed out, bass-driven reinvention, the beautiful ‘Birds’ once again proved to be a highlight. Giving each band member a chance to shine, the song starts gently, dips to near silence and soars right back upwards to new epic heights and guaranteed goosepimples. But the moment that really stole the show was a solo encore in which Emilíana took to the guitar herself (apparently only for the second time in her touring history) for a cover of the Lenny Kravitz classic ‘Fields Of Joy’, while encouraging the audience to sing the chorus of The Beatles’ ‘Dear Prudence’ on top.  Although the audience’s shyness, or perhaps their fear of drowning out the tiny lady behind the comically massive guitar, made for a slightly crap effort, the moment was not spoiled in the slightest.

While the adorability factor is undoubtedly what gets Emilíana through her most daunting tasks, don’t be fooled into thinking she rests on these laurels. The aforementioned ‘Gun’ and closing powerhouse revamp of ‘Heard It All Before’ proved that her work has as much balls as anyone else filling the Royal Festival Hall. She just can’t help herself making it feel like a cosy evening spent with a friend. Whether she’ll have another crack at a venue this size anytime soon is uncertain but Emilíana Torrini certainly passed a milestone in her career tonight, and in doing so gave over 2000 people the warmest night of their lives in a long time. Why march in and conquer when you can sprinkle a little charm and just have a giggle?

Léigh Bartlam

Photo courtesy of emiliana.nu


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