A few months ago, England lost Emilíana Torrini. She returned to live in Iceland after 16 years in the UK – almost the same amount of time she’d lived in her native country. But tonight’s show makes one thing very clear: it’s so good to have her back.
As she bounds on stage and begins opening number ‘Tookah’, the title track from her latest album (Clash review), she looks carefree, delighted to be in London. Despite the lingering presence of a cold in her voice, slightly gravelling up proceedings, she sounds brilliant.
Synths play a leading role in the newest sounds from Emilíana and, while they’re a little quiet at the start, they soon come into their own with ‘Animal Games’, full of bass, and more importantly drama.
Hearing these new songs live brings a whole new feeling to them. The mix of folk, pop and electro is fun, easy to dance to, but still oh so pretty. It’s such a treat, although there must be more than a handful in the crowd desperate to hear Emilíana’s lost album – a collection of AC/DC-sounding tracks that she says didn’t make it past the first listen of her record label. “It shows some things are better to wait for,” she tells her audience.
Continuing with the new songs, ‘Caterpillar’ is atmospheric and moody and brings the pace down a little, showing off that lovely voice. The classic ‘Sunnyroad’ splits the crowd between old and new fans, but gets a huge response. It’s subtle and stripped down, with a saw bringing an almost orchestral sound to its simple melody.
The easy approach continues for ‘Autumn Sun’, ‘Elisabet’ and new song ‘Echo Horse’, which has some beautifully psychedelic four-part harmonies. It’s a great taste of things to come next year.
The room changes to embrace an air of suspense and anticipated heartbreak when ‘Birds’ begins, the spine-tingling beauty from her 2008 album ‘Me And Armani’. It’s tender, all encompassing and truly wonderful, especially when the bass kicks in towards the end, bringing the song to a euphoric finale.
It marks a turning point in the gig, leaving the more solemn sounds behind and heading into a whole lot of fun and dancing.
‘Big Jumps’ is loud and feisty, just like Emilíana when she explains what the song is about: “It takes a f*cking lot of bravery to be happy,” she says passionately. We can only wonder what that experience was. Tonight, it’s dedicated to her backing singer, who has to sit for most of the gig after apparently falling into a bath while looking at her bum in a mirror.
The song flows brilliantly into ‘Me And Armani’, guitar fuzz sounding like a war zone and contrasting the soprano of more saw.
Everything turns a little darker for the superb ‘Blood Red’, one of the highlights of the night. The stage is draped in red light for the melody that verges on sinister. Its eeriness grows with massive guitars and percussion, eventually turning into something loud, heavy and fiery.
It’s quite a contrast to jump into ‘Speed Of Dark’, the single from ‘Tookah’. But, we’re in Heaven after all, and suddenly everyone is dancing, making for one very happy crowd at one very brilliant gig.
But there are more treats to come. For the first encore, Emilíana blows away our tiny minds with another new number: Ted Hughes’ poem ‘The Seven Sorrows’ set to music. She admits she shouldn’t really be playing it publicly, but we’re really pleased she she did. Tears are shed.
Staying in this enlightened mood, ‘Beggar’s Prayer’ is astounding, deep and almost choral with its ending of layered vocals. It’s amazing, despite some attendees chattering too loudly during its almost gospel moments.
Not to end on such a serious note, there’s more dancing to be had with ‘Jungle Drum’. You get that feeling that everyone in the room, including those on stage, just had themselves a whale of a time.
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Words: Gemma Hampson
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