Gig review: Lau/Joan As Policewoman, Edinburgh

AN INTERESTINGLY mixed, young (-ish) and decidedly non-folkie audience for the opening concert of Lau’s three night “Lau-Land” extravaganza suggested the extent to which the adventurous approach of this power-folk trio has netted a broad following. The night’s music, too, would prove engagingly eclectic.
Aidan ORourke, Kris Drever and Martin Green accompanied their guests during Lau-LandAidan ORourke, Kris Drever and Martin Green accompanied their guests during Lau-Land
Aidan ORourke, Kris Drever and Martin Green accompanied their guests during Lau-Land

Lau/Joan As Policewoman - Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

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Following a pre-concert apéritif of the up-and coming fiddle and keyboard duo of Gráinne Brady and Tina Jordan Rees spinning out tunes in the bar, on-stage proceedings opened with an extended, shimmering soundscape from Lau’s most recent collaborators, the Elysian String Quartet, which gradually coalesced from improvised scrapes, murmurs and bird-like calls into richly toned, teased out chords.

More birdsong, as it were, followed on with the captivating Ella the Bird, aka diminutive Glasgow singer-songwriter Siobhan Wilson, whose tremulous yet self-possessed vocals cascaded and sustained some high-wire top notes in Say It’s True, the bittersweet country-ish All Dressed Up and a lovely cover of Declan O’Rourke’s Galileo.

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Lau themselves in full flight generate a formidable experience, fiddler Aidan O’Rourke, singer-guitarist Kris Drever and accordionist Martin Green hunched over their instruments as characteristically wayward melodies such as Torsa or A Song for the Bees pass through a foundry of thundering beats and grinding electronics to emerge, relatively unscathed, at the other side. They don’t stint on volume, which at times can overwhelm Drever’s lyrics in songs, as in the echoing migratory anthem of Ghosts or the tick-tock workings of Throwing Pennies.

The trio was joined by the Elysian String Quartet to perform The Bell that Never Rang, premiered at this year’s Celtic Connections to much acclaim, with its waves of string and reed sound culminating in glorious pulses and harmonics, and the evening closed, amid ecstatic audience response, with the trio’s signature headlong torrent of Hinba.

The following night opened with home-grown singer-songwriter Adam Holmes fairly taking to Townes Van Zandt’s Loretta before confirming his own status as master of melancholy with material of his own, such Oh My God and his plaintively boozy Mother Oak.

Topping the bill as Lau’s guest artist was the Brooklyn-based, left-field neo-soul singer and songwriter Joan Wasser, aka Joan As Policewoman. Here, shed of all brassy funk or doo-wop backing bands or Village People-style videos, she delivered a raw, soul-baring solo set with her own often skeletal piano accompaniments, as in the world-weary To Be Lonely or the Satie-esque waltz time of Real Life, then taking up electric guitar for Feed the Light or Human Condition. She was joined on the latter by Green on keyboard while Drever and O’Rourke further swelled the ranks to provide an ominously ringing backdrop for Flash.

Other highlights were Wasser’s starkly weathered cover of Kate Bush’s Army Dreamers while a new song, Station, saw her and O’Rourke engage in a sonorously amplified violin duet over Green’s rasping electronics. Perhaps the outstanding number of the evening, however, was her incantatory delivery of We Don’t Own It, accompanied solely by the polyphonic chiming of Corrina Hewat’s electroharp.

Seen on 27/28.11.14