Large parts of Sarah Blasko’s “indietronica” debut The Overture & The Underscore has made it in to the collective conscience of a generation of Aussie festival goers, having been played over couple of summers in the noughties. Her recordings and live shows have changed in style since then, relying less on loops and broken beats and branching into a jazz lounge setup including baby grand piano, double bass and strings.
At this Islington Academy gig the band and the mix sound great, but unfortunately Blasko seems disconnected from her band and the audience. The set list makes no attempt to acknowledge the heavy Australian contingent; the first singalong moment comes a good five songs in with recent song We Won’t Run. All but the most diehard fans must wait until the covers near the end of the set for the next modestly recognisable tune.
Although the performance starts off a little on the quiet side, her voice recalls Martha Wainwright and Regina Spector. A few songs in to the gig however she dedicates a song to “anyone who might not be feeling the best.” The dedication might well be self referential but, as the night wears on, it becomes obvious that her voice isn’t strong enough to hit some of the notes and her on-stage energy rapidly dissipates.
In lieu of the standard faux encore the band leaves Blasko and her pianist together on stage for two cabaret cover songs from a bonus disc (Cinema Blasko) of her most recent album As Day Follows Night. The first is It Seems Like Old Times, as sung by Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. In typical cabaret style Blasko chats to the audience, explaining Keaton’s and her character’s continuing influence on her personal style.
The rendition is flawless but the song itself didn’t go over amazingly well with the young crowd, who were possibly unfamiliar with the song and maybe even the film itself. A cover of Xanadu follows and, to her credit, she sings it brilliantly; the pared back arrangement works well as Blasko channels Karen Carpenter to bring a warm edge to the number.
The full band rejoins her on stage for the final songs of the night. These are mostly songs familiar Down Under and aim to end the night on a high, but Blasko’s failing vocals during Always Worth It turn what should be a highlight in to that moment when one starts to think about the nearest exit. It is a genuine shame that those in the crowd new to Blasko’s music and live shows experienced a lacklustre gig, possibly affected by health issues; she has proven herself to be a dynamic and inventive performer in the past.