Live Music + Gig Reviews

Madeleine Peyroux + Keren Ann @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

6 August 2005

Madeleine Peyroux

Madeleine Peyroux

“It’s a bit different to when I came to see Crackerjack,” whispers one woman to her partner as she enters the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Indeed, Terry Wogan’s home during his seven years as a TV chat show host has seen some changes over the years, with some seats being added in the stalls tonight for an evening of laid-back jazz.

Not everyone in the stalls was lucky enough to be allocated seats though, and for those stood at the back near the bar, the almost constant chatter distracted somewhat from the support act of Keren Ann. Her songs are quiet, winsome and lovely and are probably best heard late at night in a small club, not next to a punter desperate to attract the bar staff’s attention.

Still, Keren Ann and her band were the perfect warm-up. One of the few acts to get away with performing without a drum kit, Keren’s vocals were breathy and quiet and perfectly suited her languid set. The set was dominated by her most recent album Nolita, with the atmospheric Chelsea Burns and the dark and mysterious title track being a particular highlight.

One to be filed next to the tasteful yet edgy folk/jazz of Stina Nordenstam and Emiliana Torrini, Keren Ann gained more than a few fans here tonight, at least if the scramble to join her mailing list during the interval was anything to go by.

Madeleine Peyroux has had an almost stealthless rise over the last few months. It’s easy to see how she appeals to the loved up middle-class couples who attend tonight’s show in abundance – her songs are breathlessly romantic, and have that air of sophistication that’s so difficult to pull off without sounding smug. Yet it would be wrong to class her as another Norah Jones – she’s far more intense than that.

There’s a slightly awkward stage presence to Peyroux that’s strangely endearing – stood behind the microphone, clutching a guitar, she never seems fully at ease. Until, that is, she starts singing and that voice fills the air. It’s a marvellous voice, full of emotion and longing. It’s true that she sounds uncannily like Billie Holiday, but she’s not a Stars In Their Eyes impersonator,

Peyroux turns Leonard Cohen‘s Dance Me To The End Of Love into a swinging jazz number, remakes Elliott Smith‘s Between The Bars into a smokey ballad straight out of 1920s Paris, and gives a haunting rendition of Hank Williams‘ Weary Blues. Her band are on fine form as well, with pianist Ben Waltzer effortlessly launching into some fantastic piano solos.

This being jazz, there were a fair number of improvised solos, and some of these did swing towards the self-indulgent. Double bass player Johaness Weidenmuller is a fine musician, but there’s only so many double bass solos one can take – thankfully drummer Scott Amendola’s solo moments were a bit shorter, as an extended drum solo is enough to test the patience of the most saintly quite frankly.

It was Peyroux’s voice that was the main draw tonight anyway. A spine-tingling rendition of I’ll Look Around was just stunning, even managing to silence the drinkers at the bar, while she also showed that she can handle the more uptempo numbers, as demonstrated on the country standard Walking After Midnight or her own song Don’t Wait Too Long.

There were even a few funny asides to the audience, such as the tale of how American journalists mix up Rambo and Rimbaud when asking about her version of Bob Dylan‘s You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go. “So, when I sing about Rimbaud, it’s about a 18th century poet”, Peyroux told us. “19th, actually” came the retort from one well read member of the audience, reducing Peyroux to a fit of the giggles.

Her grasp of French was also shown off to fine effect, as on the old Josephine Baker standard J’ai Deux Amours, sung perfectly by Peyroux before a more upbeat encore of No Names Blues finished the show off to delightful effect.

It would be a bit unfair if Madeleine Peyroux was to be lumped into the ‘tasteful, Radio 2 friendly songstresses’ market that’s so lucrative right now, as there’s a lot more to her than that. The audience at Shepherd’s Bush certainly went away happy – when they’d eventually stopped talking at the bar anyway…

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