FIRST PUBLISHED ON 13 DECEMBER 2012 IN THE LINE OF BEST FIT
You know there’s something special about a person when they can tell you about collapsing hammered and naked into a bathtub the night before, and you still feel completely charmed. So it materializes on the second night of Kathleen Edwards’ two date stop-off at Bush Hall. It was an occasion on which Edwards could probably have spent half an hour heckling her audience to death, and they still would have smiled back in response, heads atilt, eyes glowing – such is her command over those in attendance.
As it was, she does no such thing. Instead, she relies mostly on her music to cast a spell, interspersed with endearing anecdotes about buying red lipstick in Boots, drinking porter at the Defector’s Weld ‘til all hours and feeling nervous about appearing on Radio Four with Boris Johnson the next day. From the classicism of her very name, to the statuesque figure she cuts on stage, in front of a stark red curtain, flanked by Christmas trees and a couple of able accompanists (Jim Bryson, Gord Tough), there’s something inherently elegant about Kathleen Edwards, and that’s the inescapable sentiment of this performance.
Much of the set is plucked from this year’s excellent Voyageur, an album that has been conspicuous in its absence from many end of year lists. But it’s clear, given the make up of this evening’s polite, engaged audience, that it’s left a mark on Londoners young and old.
Voyageur, on which Edwards worked extensively with her celebrated beau, Justin Vernon, contains some of the most experimental work of her career and it’s these moments that prove most interesting tonight. It’s fascinating watching the on-stage trio improvise in the absence of Vernon: Edwards employs a second, reverb heavy microphone, there’s a foot pedal and a synth, but for the most part, these are the songs laid bare.
And they work tremendously well. ‘Chameleon/Comedian’ – one of the year’s finest tracks – and the gentle ‘Going To Hell’ stand out in particular. The dynamic between Edwards and her band is fantastic. She smiles over, encouragingly, as the giant Gord Tough struggles with a few of the high notes on the three-part harmonies and they build magnificently on an extended intro ‘Going To Hell’ (with Edwards on fiddle) to an ambient crescendo that wouldn’t be out of place at a Stars of the Lid show.
A penny for Kurt Cobain’s thoughts on her beautiful, countrified cover of ‘All Apologies’ would be money well spent, but the sight of a few grey heads nodding in blissful unison highlights the demographic transcendentalism of Edwards’ work. In fitting style, the night is finished in the back corner of the hall, with Edwards playing the splendid ‘Mercury’ on the house piano. Off mic, with the crowd gathered around, elbows propped on the top board, it’s ten minutes of aural, convivial bliss – the perfect end to a very special evening.