Though a tall and seemingly vast venue, Karine Polwart appears to have a knack for making Union Chapel feel cosy and intimate, adding a personal touch to her performance. With a focus on new album, Traces, tonight she’s backed by a 4 piece band, and the addition of percussion and keys bring extra power to many of the songs, especially Strange News. Meanwhile the drop back to just Steve Polwart and Inge Thompson for accompaniment on Five More Sleeps adds to it’s lullaby effect, bringing diversity to the night.
It’s perhaps Cover Your Eyes which resonates the most though, with audio from the film You’ve Been Trumped adding an insight into the destruction of environmentally sensitive Scottish coastline. Meanwhile We’re All Leaving places focus on the ‘dude’ that is Charles Darwin, and the loss of his daughter. It’s this easy emotional connection which carries Karine’s songs, highlighted again in Sorry, which is given a more ominous vibe by the resonant bass.
With two renditions of Daisy, by request of two doctors who miss the songs first airing after helping a man who has fallen ill, and Don’t Worry also making it’s way into the set there’s also an air of caution thrown into the night, both offering poignant reminders about emotional wellbeing. The religious imagery in the latter, along with Tears For Lot’s Wife, makes Union Chapel the perfect venue for their performance with songs and surroundings almost echoing each other.
It’s this willingness to take a different side of the story (as she does in King of Birds, looks at St Paul’s cathedral in light of the Occupy movement) that makes the comparison to Natalie Merchant seem obvious. Both capable of crafting songs that bring stories to life and tell a real social history.
Though I’m personally disappointed by the omission of I’m Gonna Do It All and can’t help but feel new song The Robin feels somewhat incomplete, on the whole Karine and band are captivating. With an attention to detail both in both the lyrics and instrumentation, Karine’s music is ineffable in the live arena, serving only to confirm why Traces has yet to be rivalled as my favourite album of 2012.
Photos © Jo Cox and must not be reproduced without prior consent