Sunday, March 15, 2009

Emiliana Torrini Live at St George's Church, Kemp Town

"I always shit myself at hometown gigs" confessed a cheeky Emiliana Torrini to a packed out audience at last night's Kemp Town live show - part of an epic worldwide tour to promote the new album, Me and Armini. The Icelandic singer-songwriter has lived in Brighton for the last five years and judging by the reaction of the crowd, has endeared herself greatly to the locals in that time. It seemed half of those present were either her personal friends or (as in my case) friends of friends - making for an affectionately generous atmosphere to which she rose with equal warmth and gratitude.

I first discovered Emiliana from reading a review of her 2005 album, Fisherman's Woman, which became one of my most listened to of that year. Since then I've delved eagerly back into her career to Love in the Time of Science, Crouçie d'Où La and Merman, as well as other rarities from her early days in Iceland, but this was the first time I'd seen her play live. It was a treat to do so in the familiar surrounds of my favourite Brighton venue, St George's, inside whose walls I have seen such luminaries as Low, Iron and Wine and Lambchop perform, as well as belting my own lungs out there at Midnight Mass for the past few Christmases. It was the perfect choice for Torrini's raw-silk vocals and poetically intimate lyrics to shine, and shine she most certainly did.

Despite fighting a nasty chest infection, which could occasionally be detected in her speaking voice, Emiliana's hauntingly honeyed vocals remained on top form. A tight backing band propelled her through a compelling hour or so of mostly more recent material from the last two albums, moving easily between an eclectic mix of influences and styles. From the ska-inspired title track of the new album to the more trademark folky ballads like Sunny Road - each song was delivered with polish and conviction. The sweetly bashful between-songs banter revealed an approachable, refreshingly un-starry personality, which was further observed during an uproarious karaoke session at the after show party later that night.

Having been gently unravelled throughout the evening's offerings, I was eventually reduced to sobs by the parting number, Beggar's Prayer - a melancholy ballad which ends: "Mamma said, lift your head from the sieve of your hands. Mamma said eventually this hurting will end." I can distinctly recall my own mother offering such comforting words in times of heartache, and from the number of sleeves being used as tissues on the way out of the venue, it seems I wasn't the only one with whom the song struck a chord.

The next leg of Emiliana Torrini's tour takes her to North America then Scandinavia, but she'll be back in the UK for the summer festival season and a few more dates around the country later in the year.

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