I’ll admit there’s a temptation to write “utterly outstanding” and leave it at that, as the other 350 odd words simply won’t do KT Tunstall’s performance justice. From the moment she walks on stage as the background music is still playing and lifts her arm to a wave, to the closing harmonies of Chimes (in which she used to loop pedal to combine one short guitar riff and an array of vocal harmonies to dazzling effect) it’s clear the step back to her acoustic roots has also brought her back to her musical home. Whilst it’s clearly a comfortable place to be, there’s also a sense that she’s now pushing the realms of the genre, challenging its edges by involving loops and sounds which step away from the more stripped back guitar sound.
That’s not to say that Drastic Fantastic and Tiger Suit weren’t outstanding albums, but tonight her shift into acoustic Americana shows it’s here the melodies have heart and soul. Opener Invisible Empire might boast an intricate finger picked guitar part but from the opening breath it’s all about the vocals and their soft sultry sounds, which are tinged ever so softly with her distinctive Scottish accent. Elsewhere the Nashville tuning of her guitar on Alchemy from her Scarlet Tulip EP adds a subtle shift to the set, and shows the starting point for her latest album Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon.
Though a few old numbers sneak into the set, it’s only really Black Horse and The Cherry Tree which pulls back from the themes of mortality and loss which fuse their way through the new LP. Though this offers a reprise from the more sombre numbers (especially as she twist it into a cover of Seven Nation Army on the kazoo part way through) somehow it leaves me thinking that KT is almost beyond it, the other numbers carrying with them more integrity. Through the Dark for example feels like the earlier counterpart to Yellow Flower both harnessing piano harmonies and utilising boat imagery and both expressing heartfelt sentiments which the chart hit lack.
“Bit of a shocker, Tunstall doesn’t do knees up” she proclaims before Carried and again there’s a bit of a throwback, only this time to Ashes with its open look at death. Honeydew on the other hand is less downbeat, a song which seems to carry more hope. Meanwhile Made of Grass shows the vocal flickers of emotion from an album filled with poignant and personal numbers. It’s clear then that KT might be exorcising some demons with this album, but tonight she does so without the support of a band and effortlessly juxtaposes her strength as a performer with the vulnerabilities she’s clearly felt.
Though we’re informed part way through the night we could be at any number of other events (Happy Feet 2 in 3D at the local cinema, Spank! You Love it! at the Southbank Centre, Hip Hop Karaoke at The Social, or even adult jewelry making classes at the nearby library – which leads into a whole debate about cock rings) it’s fair to say there’s not really anywhere else I, and judging by their reaction, the crowd would want to be. When the jokes subside and the music kicks in, though it might be an album which is too disconsolate to become a chart hit, it grabs you in a choke hold and refuses to let you loose until the last bar is sung.
Images copyright © Jo Cox. All rights reserved.