Nick Harper has long given up on using a set list – he lost it back in 1996, he tells us, so his songs emerge pretty spontaneously, either according to his own whim or in response to requests yelled from the audience.
Star rating: ****
Venue: The Jazz Bar (Venue 57)
You might get a roar of indignant protest, or you might get that astonishing and faintly disquieting falsetto – as in Breathe (“I can loosen the truss now,” he quips afterwards), all of it over his formidable amplified acoustic guitar work, with its tumultuous chording, bendy chimes, fretboard runs and whining pitch changes tweaked out of the machine heads.
There were times when his lyrics were swallowed up by an amplification that seemed more cranked up than was necessary for an intimate venue like the Jazz Bar, but he is a riveting live performer. In quieter mode there was Evo, his tribute to Bolivian president Evo Miralles, and – by request – his stunning cover of Prince’s Purple Rain.
The potency of memory, whether acquired first or second hand, was given expression in his Juicy Fruit Girl, with its intoned litany of childhood memorabilia, and in another song inspired by family tales of his late mother’s youthful escapade in a French bell tower (speculating how, as in particles from the Big Bang, the echoes of the bell she rang may be sounding yet in ever-expanding ripples).
And while some of his songs raged (and his voice in full holler is very reminiscent of his father, Roy Harper), he assured us that “there is always hope”, introducing Blue Sky Thinking, which indeed sailed into the wide blue yonder over a flurry of dampened strings and singing harmonics.
Until 27 August. Today 5:30pm.