Songs from new album Found Light offer an endearing reminder of the Portland singer’s compelling storytelling
This was not Laura Veirs’ first visit to Islington’s Union Chapel, but it nonetheless had all the hallmarks of a new beginning. Since she was last in front of the assembled pews, the Portland-born singer songwriter has been through an amicable but heart-shifting divorce from her husband and producer, not to mention dealing with a certain pandemic.
These circumstances have changed her musical approach, from writing and co-producing with her husband to taking the lead in all artistic decisions. While recording, she also learned to sing and play guitar simultaneously in the studio, taking autonomy for the arranging and ordering of her music – small but nonetheless significant details. Found Light, her new album, reveals a lighter and more instinctive approach, and that audible freedom was clear in the reverberant chapel.
While singing freely, Veirs also recognised that now, 30 years into her performing career, she no longer suffers from stage fright. This epiphany endeared her still further to the capacity crowd, over and above the compelling storytelling of her songs.
Make Something Good was an early highlight. A duet with singer-songwriter Joni, who had already provided a fulsome support slot, it twinned winsome harmonies with deft guitar playing. Then Veirs was joined for five songs by Kate Stables, aka This Is The Kit, who also appears on the new album. It was the first time the two singers had met, having recorded online, and the realisation of their special musical chemistry was a pleasure.
They proved the perfect match, each vocalist humbly acknowledging the other’s talents. In song, Veirs’ sharper, Oregon-accented tones found their match in Stables’ softer English vocals, elegantly delivered. The two dovetailed as though they had been in each other’s company for years, Stables stretching on tiptoe to reach the higher notes while Veirs shaped her subtle yet probing guitar lines.
The guitar was the only instrument required for the evening, often interlocking links of melody beneath the vocals. These were sensitively managed, allowing the lyrics room to make their mark. “Give, but don’t give too much of yourself away” was the message of new song Seaside Haiku, while the closing encore My Lantern sang movingly about “my lantern in the dark.”
Light proved a central theme of the concert. With the sun low in the North London sky the shadows in the church deepened, offset by dappled shades of red, orange and green as a visual aid to Veirs’ songs. Spelunking, an unexpectedly emotional composition about caving, declared that “Even when I’m sloshing in the muck of my demise, a large part of me is always and forever tied to the lamplight of your eyes.” A powerful declaration, it resonated keenly with the audience.
Elsewhere there was Between The Bars, a hushed Elliott Smith cover, intricate guitar work on Pink Light, and Song For Judee, a highlight from the case/lang/veirs collaborative album in tribute to Judee Sill. Veirs’ light humour enhanced her easeful onstage manner but the singing voice, reaching to the corners of the old church, carried the strongest message. Laura Veirs may only have been on stage for just over an hour, but in that time she gave us much to treasure.