Live Music + Gig Reviews

Vanessa Carlton – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

17 February 2003

With her long mane of raven hair and floating sleeves strikingly prominent, as Carlton sat at her baby grand it was hard to think she could be anything else but a kooky chick.

A piano-playing, singer-songwriting female throws up images of Tori Amos or Norah Jones – but Carlton proved to be a carbon copy of neither. She started her rangy set with just voice and piano, and then her band kicked in. What followed was a heady mixture of gentle pop jewels and wild, Celtic-laced wig-out rock.

Carlton’s voice is an odd melange of childlike huskiness and a penetrating deepness capable of cutting through smog. Here it wasn’t the weather conditions, but the stunning aural feast provided by electric guitar, bass and haunting violin- plus a frenetic drummer keen to give his drumsticks away. Her set ranged from the loud and dark, including a cacaphonous rendition of Paint It Black, which lured Carlton away from her beloved piano. These were the scant moments when her voice was a little swept-away by the roar of the music about her. It felt better all around when she returned to her piano stool.

Aside from the music, this lady’s asides were long and gushing – but were amusing, and further warmed up a crowd already well on her side.

That delicate piano riff brought us her soaring hit A Thousand Miles – a tune with a tingling feelgood factor which Carlton’s mum picked out as a hit, we were told. The closing song Twilight strengthened the case that his lady shines best with no more than piano and vocals.

It was hard to compare her with other female vocalists, but she does have a characteristic floatiness, plus sheer talent at what she does. But as Carlton’s tour wound up by wetting the piano with bubbly, it was a moment to enjoy a great addition to the musical family.

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Vanessa Carlton – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London