Austin – The backyard of a grease monkey is probably the last place I’d choose to perform if I’m a soul player. But then, maybe that’s what’s preventing me from becoming one because Lianne La Havas certainly didn’t mind. Frankly, I think she could have played her set in the landfill that is Tommy Thompson Park and it’ll still be just as romantic and charming as a candle-light dinner by the Seine on a misty night with a Mariachi band permeating the background… only the service might feel like it’s provided by the Coldstream guards. The atmosphere was still a bit off, honestly. It also took her 15 min longer to take the stage. But once she was there, there was no mistake the audience enjoyed every minute of it. For the uninitiated, Lianne La Havas is an English soul/folk singer whose album was named the Album of year in 2012 on iTunes. That should indicate the universality of her music. Her performance, on the other hand, stays firmly on the soulful/coy side. The performance was contrasted for the better by two loudmouth personalities in the audience this night – both standing close by me. There was the big dude who was so smitten that Lianne could have persuaded that he mop the grease from the chain-linked fence at the gate with his face. And then there was the feminist yahoo who applauded and exclaimed every time the lyrics mentioned men. Lianne’s singing deadpanned the vocal as you would expect from the album and was equally smooth on the guitar. The backup vocal was not as obvious live, for example during Don’t wake me up, a song with great emotional pull (listen after link). Her cover of Scott Matthew’s 2010 “Elusive” was also impressive (although I still like the original better). She is definitely worth seeing, and will be playing at the Opera House in early April in Toronto.
For many, Shugo Tokumaru may be an unknown from Japan. I first heard his “Parachutes” (or “PRA-SHU”) in 2008. With its glittering highlights and melody, that song catapulted directly into my permanent collection under 10 minutes. I’ve heard that he usually handles all of the sounds on his albums personally. But for this show, Shugo brought an assortment of instruments (or noise-makers: whistles, bells, weird bird-chirps, etc) and two bandmates. Many of his creations, I came to realize, resembles Maps and Atlas songs, with beats, pace and melodies changing on a whim. It was not easy to play, and perhaps even harder to sell when one can’t understand the Japanese lyrics. For a few songs, the audience seemed to have been grasping at straws and losing interest. Recognizing, perhaps, that the set wasn’t going their way, Shugo played “Video kills the Radio Star”, starting on a kazoo. This of course resonated far better with the audience and effectively rescued the show. But there were still a few flaws. For one, they were a little too quiet. Being idiosyncratic as they are, weak starts for songs confused me a little. And it wasn’t until 20s into Parachutes for example that I recognized it. For some reason the version linked below had lowered the key by about 1/2 octave – which is the key that Shugo should have played at during this show. His voice didn’t have that much range this night than when he recorded it, so it came out hoarse instead. Overall, I think it’s still a respectable show. But they should be more strategic about a performance. Or maybe Harouki Zombie spooked them? :)