The Roundhouse – May 27th
Can we have faith in Paloma Faith to deliver something impressive? That’s the question we ask ourselves about tonight’s gig. With her retro singing style, can she deliver anything more than a vocal nod to a musical form that has passed into history?
Yes, she can! Faith starts with the joyfully-delivered choppy blasts of ‘Mouth to Mouth’, celebrating a couple dressing-up, drinking and having sex as if they’re lovers meeting for the first time – and the show is off on a rollercoaster that has the crowded venue in continual excitement.
But Faith ensures that her gig doesn’t become simply a feel-good pop event. This is soul with throaty power, fired-up with the spirit of gentrified-but-still-tough Hackney rather than the upbeat feel of Motown or Philly (it’s difficult to imagine any American performers referring – as Faith does on ‘Love Only Leaves You Lonely’ – to stained sheets, even if the stains in question are memories rather than body fluids). And this holds good even when she pays homage to singers who have inspired her, such as when she sings Chaka Khan’s ‘I Feel For You’ – she makes it a song of now, doesn’t waft us back to Eighties’ nostalgia.
What are the highlights of Faith’s performance? ‘Impossible Heart’ is a jazz-funk examination of drowning in love, of not being thoughtful about how a relationship might develop. ‘Other Woman’ is about her lover seeing another woman and the constant pain this provokes, with this powerfully-declaimed lament accompanied by balletic arm movements to emphasise her gnawing despair. ‘Trouble with My Baby’ is a full-throttle request for support from her emotion-lazy lover.
‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’ captures the conflict of pleasure and pain in a relationship. All this backed-up by her visual style – tonight a minimalistic yet exciting combination of white top, black glossy leggings, high heels and a little black hat – which she uses as armour giving strength in the face of adversity. She relies on aesthetics – rather than flashing her booty – to help her work along by making us notice her. Her theatrical background is also given full play -she uses every inch of the stage to present herself – running, twirling, at one point kicking off her shoes and standing on the piano.
At one moment during her between-number banter Faith refers to the way she shows the truth behind the mirage. This sums up her performance tonight – she looks despair in the face, yet survives by throwing optimistic pleasure at it. Faith banishes doubt with rolling joy.