Academy 3 is effectively a shoebox. It’s a tiny venue stuffed away at the top of the Student’s Union at the University of Manchester and the ceiling could definitely do with a lick of paint. It is, however, a shoebox that Brooke Fraser made her own.
For such an intimate venue, it was no surprise that there was a strong rapport between Fraser and the tightly packed crowd. Opening with Orphans Kingdoms from her latest album, Flags, Fraser quickly had the audience in the palm of her hands. Throughout the night they clapped on demand, harmonized as requested and even took the reigns on a chorus of Something In The Water.
The main focus of the set list was to showcase Flags for everything it has to offer. The imagery-heavy lyrics of Betty were brought to life in a live performance whilst the floaty Coachella was the closest many of the crowd will ever get to experiencing the famed Palm Springs festival.
Frantically searching for her tambourine before Jack Kerouac, it was apparent that Fraser was enjoying herself. Topics of her one-sided conversation ranged from getting safety advice from a policeman in Manchester to a subtle dig at the Brits sporting achievements (or lack thereof) in Fraser’s native New Zealand.
Despite the “intermittent sirens” of a malfunctioning fire alarm, Fraser launched into a stripped back performance of Sailboats with her looped vocals adding a haunting undercurrent to the song. Straying from her new material, there were a few dalliances with some old favourites such as Deciphering Me and Albertine showing who the most dedicated fans in the audience were. A cover of Feist’s Sea Lion Woman took the pace up a level and had everyone tapping their feet.
Introducing Here’s To You, Fraser was happy to speak of the story behind the song. The death of an unnamed actor had clearly affected her, but sparked a thought chain that ultimately led to her concluding that even after she’s died there could still be some man in Uzbekistan with a recording of her voice. A complicated story which perhaps needs more explanation, but as she explained that everyone has their own ‘music’ that will be left behind, the pirate shanty tune was greatly overshadowed by the poignant lyrics.
Something In The Water may have been an obvious choice to close the set but it certainly left everyone wanting more. More they got, with the encore of a magnificent cover of Coldplay’s Violet Hill followed by a solo piano performance of 2003’s Arithmetic leading to the question of why, after so many years of writing and playing such beautiful songs, Brooke Fraser can only just manage to sell out such a small venue. Her talent certainly warranted a bigger audience.