On Tuesday night, Tegan and I saw favourite singer, Emilíana Torrini, in concert at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney. This is the second time we have seen her in concert – I blogged about the first time back in November 2005 here and it all but impossible to describe this concert without comparing it to the first.
The concert was brilliant. Amazing. Wonderful. We thoroughly enjoyed it and has such a good time. I can’t remember the last time I had such a big smile on my face during a concert. I almost always enjoy concerts – mainly because I don’t typically see bands I don’t like, at least not recently anyway – but this was something special. Björk was probably the only other performer I have seen in the last few years who has had us dancing quite so much at a concert (read about that one here).
We arrived at the Theatre before the doors opened and stood quite near the middle of the front row. This placed us only about 3 metres from Emilíana and with a great view of the whole stage.
The first support act was a woman named Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardottir Lay Low. Unlike the support act the first time we saw Emilíana Torrini, this support act was good and memorable. Like Emilíana she was from Iceland and sounded quite similar, though a little more country. She was quite nervous an stumbled a few times during her set but had some great songs. I’ve already bought one of her albums on iTunes. The other cool thing that we discovered once Emilíana came on was that her guitarist and the other band members who played with her for a couple of songs were actually Emilíana’s band.
Emilíana, though, was incredibly amazing. She was still just as shy when interacting with the audience as the first time we saw her, but was a more confident performer overall.
So, for the comparisons:
We enjoyed the previous concert more, we were sorry to say. This does not indicate that we did not enjoy the concert last night, but it won’t stay stuck in our heads as one of the greatest musical experiences of our lives as did the first one.
The first concert was more intimate – though the Metro Theatre isn’t that much smaller than the Enmore, it actually made a big difference to the feel. Last time around the stage was more compressed and everything felt closer.
This time around she had a bigger band. We can’t quite remember, but think that last time it was just her and a guitarist and one or two others. This time there were up to six people on stage at a time. Mind you, the band were also much better this time – in fact they were amazing. The drummer was particularly good – on several songs (To Be Free was the one we noticed first) he sounded much better than did the drummer on the studio version that we have on CD. He was also notable as the first drummer I have ever seen play cymbals with a violin bow. In several songs he drew a violin bow up over the sides of the cymbals to produce a shimmering sound. This was amazing to watch. He also later did the same with a xylophone in one song, which produced an amazingly interesting sound.
There was also a keyboard player, two guitarists and for some songs another bass player. The bass players deserve a special mention – for several songs the woman who was the support act played bass and on a couple of songs the roadie played bass – it was actually really cool to see such a seamless meld between the support and the main act and to see the band for the entire concert acting as such a tight unit.
The bigger band really suited the songs from Emilíana’s latest album and from her first mainstream album, Love in the Time of Science. These are largely songs with rock or electronic beats and instrumentation and the heavier guitar and drumming really suited these songs. However, in another sense it detracted from the thing that we loved the most from the first time we saw Emilína, and that was her voice. Her voice is amazing – possibly the best I’ve heard from anyone other than an opera/choral singer. In the first concert, with it’s intimate venue and instrumentation and the predominance of beautiful, haunting, emotional songs her voice carried massive power. It stayed with us for days afterwards. This time around she still sang brilliantly, but it did not dominate the rest of the band like it did the first time we saw her.
And that brings me to my next point: this time, Emilíana was happier. That sounds an odd thing to say, but in 2005 she was touring in support of her Fisherman’s Woman album, which is a very sad album, based around themes of loss and mourning. However, her most recent album, Me and Armini, is a much more upbeat album – lots of pop and rock and even some reggae beats. It’s obvious that she is happier in life, which must be a great thing for her. It sounds harsh, but her singing appealed to me more when it was sadder. I think it works like this: there are lots of good rock and pop bands out there. Out of those, there are a decent number who can impart a great vibe and make you feel happy when you experience their music. However, there aren’t many bands who do overwhelming emotion very well. Jeff Buckley was one, and he died way too early. Emilíana Torrini is the only other person I’ve heard who can sing powerful, emotional songs with such energy and force that you truly feel their emotion and want to sympathise with them. She sang some of those songs this time around, but it didn’t carry the same force as in 2005. And on the subject of her voice, it did sound a bit more tired this time – she sounded as though she has been touring for a bit too long in a row and needs a bit of a break. This is understandable, and is the difference between hearing a tour perhaps 6 months or so after the album was released, compared with now about 18 months since the last album was released – and she has been to Australia twice in that time.
I should note that the first time we saw her it was on her first Australian tour, and we would have liked to have seen her on her second Australian tour, but it was a little difficult as Anastasia would have only been a few weeks old at the time.
In a sense, all the description of the concert I have laid out to this point isn’t actually a fair review of the concert in its own right: all this really does is clarify for me what I liked so much about the first Emilíana Torrini concert I went to. As such, this could just be appended to my first review and treated as an extension of said comments.
In fairness to last night’s concert in its own right: we had such a brilliant time and left feeling massively happy. That’s about the highest compliment we can pay Emilíana for the concert. Our best experiences of anything – concerts, restaurants, events – are ones that make us happy; it’s our litmus test of how great something is. Last night made us really happy – I noticed that as the concert went on I was leaning further and further over the barricade, tapping along to the music and also enjoying watching the various looks on the faces of other people in the front few rows who were also massively enjoying the concert. To me, this emphasises that it was excellent – great songs and a powerful, engaging performance. We will certainly try our hardest to see her again next time she comes to Australia.
One final cool thing: I got a copy of the setlist that the band used – one of the roadies passed me one when the concert was over. There were a few changes at the end of the concert in what they played compared to what the setlist said, the main one being that the setlist would have had them finishing with a cover of The Beatles’s song ‘Dear Prudence’. I would have loved to have seen that, so I found a video of her playing it on YouTube here.
One final not so cool thing: I wish I had taken my camera. When we saw her at The Metro they were checking bags and making people check their cameras in at the cloak room. With that in mind, we decided not to take a camera this time. However, we could easily have taken a camera in and plenty of people in the crowd had them. Had we only known… Tegan did get some cool video of bits of the concert on her iPhone though and one of my sister’s friends, Michelle, was there with a photographer’s pass and has posted some of her photos on Flickr.