tue 23/04/2019

Nerina Pallot, Shepherds Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Nerina Pallot, Shepherds Bush Empire

Nerina Pallot, Shepherds Bush Empire

Jersey-born chanteuse overcomes awkward venue to prove she's as much performer as writer

Nerina Pallot: real star quality

It’s been a long-standing source of surprise to me how Nerina Pallot continues to operate a whisker under the radar. From the get-go, 10 years back, she’s had the voice, songs and looks to be a star. Maybe a decade ago was the wrong time for her. But now, with her musical style residing somewhere between Laura Marling and Adele, surely she’s perfect for today’s market. The critics sure think so. In the last few months, column inches have argued that her new album’s the one to really break her into the mainstream. I agree. But when she walked out on stage at the Shepherds Bush Empire I couldn’t help but wonder whether her real problem might be that she’s just too nice.

Of the current crop of female songwriters, I’ve always suspected some are pushy and others are thought to be profound just because they seem troubled. Up on stage last night Pallot seemed neither troubled nor pushy. She was charming, demure and, to begin with, anxious. She dubbed it “London Fear”. This was the end of the tour and after weeks playing raucous halls at the end of motorways, she was scared that the Big Smoke itself might be a little “too polite”.

Instead of writing sickly paeans to her bump, the songs are wild and sexy

But it wasn’t so much a case of an uptight crowd, it was rather that the venue was set up more for a Sunday service than a rock concert. The dance floor had been replaced with temporary seating and the PA system seemed to have been made out of mud and glue. A nastier person than Nerina Pallot wouldn’t have stood for it. But then again, they probably wouldn’t have persevered and won through the way she did.

One thing Pallot should have been confident of was the quality of her new material. The new album’s called Year of the Wolf - written during the gestation of her son, Wolfgang. But instead of writing sickly paeans to her bump, the songs are wild and sexy. She played six of them, mixed in with a selection of hits and personal favourites. It may have been a shame that two stompers from the new album, “Butterfly” and “Turn Me on Again”, that she opened with, fell foul of the rotten sound. But to remedy that Pallot then did what she is so good at with audiences: she started to chat to them. Explaining how bad she felt after the previous London gig – she’d finished that evening crying in the back of a taxi, going back to a borrowed cat - Pallot seemed to pick herself up. And the next number, “Idaho”, dominated by Pallot’s piano and voice, worked much better.

Getting the audience to vote between “Damascus” and “Geek Love” for the next tune also helped create an atmosphere. But the booming sound system conspired then to make two normal sure-fire belters, “Real Late Starter” and “Everybody’s Going to War”, lack spark.

Suddenly I remembered why I own all the albumsThen something happened that turned the evening. Pallot dismissed the band and stood alone and unplugged. And it effected a transformation. Suddenly I remembered why I own all the albums. The next three songs were astonishing. “Mr King”, “Daphne and Apollo” and “History Boys” may be sad but they were also transporting, proving Pallot’s ability to penetrate the most intimate and private emotions. Lost in these lachrymose songs, her voice soared like a dove, and the simplicity with which she sang about the tragedy of war seemed to move the audience almost to tears.

Now she really started to own the night. Somehow it helped the band sound better too. In “All Bets Are Off” and “Put Your Hands Up” Luke Potashnick’s guitar became clearer, and Damon Wilson’s drums crisper. And then with Pallot’s version of “Better Than Today”, the song she wrote for Kylie, she finally got the Empire to party, continued with covers of Prince's "Raspberry Beret" and Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”. When the evening’s closer, the inevitable "Sophia", came around finally the crowd had even learnt to whoop.

Pallot should consider the evening a personal triumph. On her own admission, she’d been nervous about the night, and for reasons that had nothing to do with her, it didn’t start under ideal conditions. Her charm and talent conquered it. Her recent compositions may have shown she can probably hold her own with anyone in Tin Pan Alley, but she is also a very fine performer with real star quality. It would be a real shame if her live persona ever lost out to her becoming a songwriting gun-for-hire.

 Watch Nerina Pallot's latest video "Put Your Hands Up"

Comments

This review is spot on.the first 2 tracks were so poorly mixed (no piano, all bass drum) that I actually went to speak to the guy on the mixing desk at that point and told him. he looked pretty annoyed but the sound seemed to change after that. the piano was poorly mic-ed up so you could hear every finger stroke as a thump, which is not necessary nowadays. NP showed her star quality as a perfomer band and brilliant singer but the whole set-up did her no justice really. Connecting with the audience is great but at the same time the perfomance needs to be set up more professionally. A really enjoyable night, but with better marketing nerina would be playing far bigger venues.

To be fair PhilC, she wasn't playing piano on the first 2 tracks! Having said that, I agree the sound started off very poorly & then improved. From Mr King onwards it was an excellent concert with some stunning performances & arrangements - Grace, History Boys, All Bets Are Off & Cigarette being the highlights for me. Loved it.

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