|Current music:||Shiri Maimon - The Silence That Was Left|
KT Tunstall - Live @ Manchester Academy 1, 16/10/2005
Anybody who knows anything at all about KT Tunstall knows that her entire career is built on her live performances, and one song in particular.
My favourite KT song is, and will likely remain for a while, False Alarm. It's nice, it's quiet, it's introspective, it's the sort of song you listen to on your own in a dark room when you're feeling sad. It is, in short, not what you're there for when you go to concerts. You're there for the huge tracks. You don't go to U2 concerts for One, you go for Where The Streets Have No Name. You don't go to a Coldplay concert for The Scientist, you go for Yellow.
And you don't go to see KT Tunstall for False Alarm. You go for Black Horse And The Cherry Tree.
This song has built up an astonishing reputation. As she reminded all at the concert, it was voted Best Song at the recent Q Awards; although beating U2's worst first-single-off-an-album ever, James Blunt and the Most Overplayed Song Of The Summer, Oasis's That Song That's Only Any Good Because Rhys Ifans Is Moderately Funny In The Video and Coldplay's latest attempt to remind us exactly how accurate Mitch Benn And The Distractions were, does slightly dampen the mood.
But I digress. KT's work with the now infamous Wee Bastard, otherwise known as an Akai Headrush E2 loop pedal, enables the signature sound. Allowing her to loop anything she wants, it basically means that she can record her own backing tracks live on stage. So, slap a guitar a few times. Loop that. Say "Woo hoo" a few times. Loop that too. Do some guitar work. Loop that as well. And before you know what's going on, you've got the nuts and bolts of a song intro playing around you without needing to do a thing. Then you can start really playing, and singing a load of weird lyrics about marrying a horse, and harmonising with yourself, and winning awards and critical plaudits left, right and centre.
Despite that reputation, Sunday night was the first time I'd ever seen a live performance of it. Sure, it turned up on Jools Holland last October (new series starts this week), but I missed it. It was live at the Mercury Awards, and I gave up on that after an American won it. Everywhere it's been it's completely destroyed the competition around it, blowing acts as legendary as The Cure clean off the stage. And it did the same on Sunday. People were cheering for the song before they even got to the venue, and after every single song there. The "woo hoo" hook sticks in the brain of everybody from age 1 to age... God only knows, and it's easy to sing it at every opportunity.
However, KT needs to learn something that a lot of people haven't cracked. Don't ever, ever pander to your audience. The set list was always going to consist of the twelve album tracks, a couple of B-sides and maybe a new song; a track that huge needs saving for the very, very end. Throwing it away a mere seven tracks in, while fleshing out the middle of the gig (the album has one or two clunkers, because virtually all albums do), means the latter half of the concert is going to end up a little flat; there is simply no way you can follow that song. And so it proved, the next five tracks virtually disappearing until she got to Suddenly I See, which woke everyone up again just in time for her to disappear before the inevitable encore.
The tracks that adapt best to the live stage are those which use the pedal a lot; so Miniature Disasters, Suddenly I See and co are your usual suspects. Heal Over is a very nice song, but live it got dragged out a little too much; False Alarm was sadly ruined by an overlong and unnecessary coda.
There were three tracks new to me; the B-sides Girl And The Ghost (pretty good) and Dirty Water (better, although a teetotaller like myself really shouldn't like so many songs about alcohol). The new track, One Day, was pretty handy, although I'll need to find it and listen to it a bit more before forming an opinion.
KT herself is a wonderful character on stage. The intimate setting of the Academy (capacity about 1800) makes it fairly easy to engage with the audience, telling stories about how her mother thought Black Horse And The Cherry Tree was actually about marrying a horse. "Oh, Mother! It's a metaphor! ... for EVIL!" And such, asking the front few rows how close they were to fainting and throwing her guitar pick (and drumsticks; yes, she was behind the skins by the end of Suddenly I See, and finished with a lovely version of Through The Dark with herself on piano) into the crowd, as is usual for these sorts of things.
So yes. Great concert, great songs, but one track blew everything else off the stage. Again. Unfortunately, this time, everything else was the rest of her set. Black Horse is in serious danger of becoming a bit of an albatross for the next album or so.
Support: Ed Harcourt is one of the better support acts I've seen, although he has the benefit of actually having a following already.
Other Side Of The World
Under The Weather
Another Place To Fall
Universe & U
Girl And The Ghost
Black Horse And The Cherry Tree
Stoppin' The Love
Suddenly I See
Through The Dark