Last weekend summer came briefly to the city and London reacted in its own inimitable way. It hissed and steamed and sweltered. Its public transport arteries became clogged with perspiration and its intimate music venues became spaces more suitable for a session of Bikram yoga than for any form of musical appreciation.
That certainly was the case on the first night of Nina Nastasia’s two night residency at Café OTO, a cosy tea light-lit cafe-cum-performance space in Dalston. Thankfully – for her and us – by the following night someone had seen fit to open a window or two and the temperature was bearable.
This was a pared down evening: two musicians, two stools and little else. Performing alongside violinist Matt Szemela, Nastasia’s acoustic set consists mostly of material from her forthcoming release Outlaster, though the arrangements are often more basic than on the album. The simplicity of the staging allows the audience to focus fully on the lyrics; Nastasia’s songs, as ever, are incredibly evocative, heartfelt and sometimes a little sinister. She has a truly beautiful voice; it’s delicate yet more than capable of soaring, and she packs a wealth of feeling into each phrase, into each shift of key. Even during her most potent moments, there’s a degree of control in evidence.
The new single Cry, Cry Baby and You’re A Holy Man, also from Outlaster,stand out from a set that was, at times, tonally a little one-level; some of the songsseem to runout of juiceor justfade away like curls of silver cigarette smoke. She’s an endearing performer, funny and warm, interspersing her songs with rather random anecdotes about anal intercourse and a wide-eyed account of a recent trip to Argos (“That place is amazing!”) But, tonight at least, Nastasia seems a little hesitant in her playing: there are a lot of false starts, stop-starts and even some stop-stops.
One audience member makes his displeasure vocal; others shout him down. For a moment the mood in the room falters, but Nastasia pulls things together with admirable grace. She is joined on stage by a second violinist and concludes her set in a quietly compelling way. Everyone’s entitled to an off night and it was possible to feel her frustration and to sympathise. By the end of the evening she’d proved that even when not on top form, she’s an artist deserving of attention and admiration.