sun 31/05/2020

KT Tunstall, Shepherd's Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

KT Tunstall, Shepherd's Bush Empire

KT Tunstall, Shepherd's Bush Empire

Scottish chanteuse delivers an evening of superior AOR

First up, a confession. I’m one of those who’ve never considered KT Tunstall to be quite the real deal. She’s sometimes described as indie, but I’ve always found her more background music for filling out a tax form to than someone to help you through a lost weekend. On a recent single she sings about being “still a weirdo”, but it comes over to me about as convincingly as Guy Ritchie’s accent. Weirdo? That cutesy Sino-Scottish face and Jimmy Krankie accent are only a curio when stacked up against mainstream AOR, which is clearly what she doesn’t want to be. To me she’s indie-lite. Or Melua-heavy. Am I alone? Last night I sure was.

The crowd at Shepherd’s Bush may have looked as if they’d come up with the idea of gigging after ruling out everything else in Time Out but, once on board, had clearly become fully committed to the idea. Largely genteel thirty and fortysomethings, I suspect they’d been alarmed by the Rastafarian ticket touts outside, but once inside they were in for a good time. And to give her her dues, she may be no Laura Marling, nor poet of the sad or angry, but Tunstall is a pretty mean entertainer.

She is like a precocious child full of winning mannerisms, a desire to show what she can do, and to be loved in return. The evening, however, got off to a slow start with the crowd as static as the Eighties-styled bass and guitar players. During “Glamour Puss” and “Uummannaq Song”, you could sense various thoughts going on in the heads of both the band and the audience: they just didn’t seem to be the same ones. “Come on, Get in”, a trademark Tunstall stomp-by-numbers, raised the temperature a few degrees. However it was with “False Alarm” that things really began to get going. Tunstall displayed a level of artistry rarely found in the hits, and it really was almost like one of those sweeping Seventies ballads sung by a dreamy-eyed Californian blonde.

“(Still a) Weirdo” was introduced with the question, “How many weirdos do we have here?” I doubt many, but maybe a few had once owned a mug with the slogan, “You don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps”. However ersatz the song's sentiment, it was undeniably pretty in a Dido kind of way. Here Tunstall used the band well. More often the concert felt like a girl with a guitar plus friends. “Hold On” had that quality. And why not? Tunstall really had charisma, and rhythm - in the way she played her guitar, in the way she squirmed and wriggled around the stage, and in the way she sang.

This “almost one girl and guitar” feel was finally fully realised in the solo set, which actually started off as one girl and a whole pile of loops and effects and the huge hit “Other Side of the World”. I don’t know whether it was the lager beginning to take effect, or just the concert running its course but the crowd went nuts. But not as nuts as they went for the next song, the mega hit “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”. The famous Jools Holland performance (see video below) was reprised with Tunstall taking on the mantle of a modern-day one-man-band complete with foot tambourine. And two thirds of the way into the song, piece by piece, the band was brought back complete with trumpets on loops. Dare I say it, it was all starting to rock.

Watch KT Tunstall performing "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" on Jools Holland:

That level of excitement was only reached again, for me anyway, with the musically inventive “Madame Trudeaux”, which I also consider the highlight of the new album. The other songs such as “Lost”, “Golden Framed”, “Difficulty” or “The Entertainer” all just seemed to come and go. The fans felt otherwise. There were cries of “We love you, KT”; one girl had come with a tiger hat that she gave Tunstall to wear. In fact some of the male adulation seemed to border on the unhealthy, such as the man in the anorak in front of me frantically entering the set list into his iPhone.

“Fade like a Shadow”, ending the set, was met with a standing ovation. The encores brought the appealing “Heal Over”, an amusing cover of Erasure’s “A Little Respect”, and Tunstall showed how totally she felt she owned the Empire for the night by being completely unflapped when her guitar broke in the inevitable closer, “Suddenly I See”.

Was I won over by KT? Not really, but I probably liked more of her songs than I realised. And moreover, listening to them stripped of their studio sheen certainly made me see what a talented and feisty performer she is. That’s not to suggest she should ditch the gloss. Rather it just gets confusing when she tries to be alternative. For the most part what she gave last night was a superior pop/AOR concert. And what’s wrong with that?


"Largely genteel thirty and fortysomethings, I suspect they’d been alarmed by the Rastafarian ticket touts outside". Frankly I find this insulting. Just because one is thirty or over doesn't make them clueless to the music scene or anything else. The only reason I wasn't right up at the front in the admittedly fairly tame moshpit is that I now suffer from a disability.

A rather excellent point, za_lady, and one compounded by his describing Rej and Charlotte as "static[...]Eighties-styled bass and guitar players." It's rather difficult to understand how someone who allegedly writes about music for a living can expect anyone to take him seriously at slating thirty-plus-somethings as clueless about indie scenes when he doesn't bloody know who Charlotte Hatherley is. Well that, and the way he seems so put out that other, more common, people were enjoying the set a lot more than he, an anointed music and indie Gatekeeper, was. Criticfail.

Wow what a way to review a concert these days. Insulting the people at the concert now? What a hateful 'review'. Sad little man. Oh and try getting the song titles right.

"In fact some of the male adulation seemed to border on the unhealthy, such as the man in the anorak in front of me frantically entering the set list into his iPhone." Geez, males being attracted to female artists...go figure! Must not happen in your world eh? :>D

I was there last night and felt that KT tunstall is a fantastic singer songwriter who doesnt have to fill any music genre's she has worked hard and made it in an incredibly hard world where music corporations rule the airwaves and for her to break through with her own music not other peoples offerings she deserves all the admiration her audience showed last night and I for one loved every minute of her and her bands performance! You Russ must be a some kind of weirdo to be there in the first place especially as all the songs she played were off her 2 albums and if you listened to them and didnt like them why go so was probably hurt by the suggetion that YOU were a weirdo and so are giving a bum review maybe you should stick to r'n'b bands and x factor shows and next time maybe a deserving fan could have had your ticket and could have enjoyed the show for what it was you should stick to reviewing your tv in your living room and maybe should not go out anymore in case you meet any more rastafarian doormen because I bet it was you who felt nervous by them and thats why you mentioned it!

My wife and I were there last night and yes we are thirtysomething but not even slightly alarmed by the touts. We were shocked at your review as having been to plenty of gigs and festivals over the last 15 years (in small and large venues) this was undoubtably one of the best sets we have seen. KT was utterly brilliant and the new album was fantastic live - no one can say that the solo section in the middle was anything but brilliant and totally deserved the standing ovation that it got. I don't know if you were just in a bad mood last night or perhaps slightly depressed but we thought it was bloody brilliant. Well done KT!

Wow, you've hit a raw nerve judging by the uptight comments. Since when, just because you like an artist, does it mean everyone else does or has to, including those who review? I suspect that a lot of people wouldn't like the type of music that I listen to and would probably write a review based on what they thought, isn't that the whole point of a review? Whether you went there to store material for your w*nk bank or you genuinely like KT Tunstall's music, get a life!

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