Cadogan Hall – 4/09/18
“Fun fact: I was going to be called Molly,” Annie Clark reveals to the audience as she tells the story of a conversation she had with her younger brother after their dog had died. Of course it was called Molly.
Billed as an intimate performance, tonight’s show is more of ‘An evening with…’, as Annie sings and recounts the anecdotes about how songs came into being (the Molly conversation inspired ‘I Prefer Your Love’), accompanied only by a spotlight and her friend and composer Thomas Bartlett’s masterly piano playing (“We’ve had many nights writing together, filled with tequila and feelings”).
There had been a seething provocativeness to the high-concept, art shows that she’s been touring for Masseduction. Those shows reimagined what a gig was and should be as it played with gender roles and pulsed with ideas and neon. Tonight, signs as you walk to your seat warn of strobes and flash lighting, suggesting maybe this intimate show would be of a similar feel.
Yet, picked out under a spotlight and wearing a black blazer-like dress, rather than pink PVC, tonight is the antithesis of those shows. Here she strips the songs down to their component parts, yet in the act of deconstructing them they feel warmer and more lived in. Phrases and ideas are allowed to linger for longer. It makes for tender, beautiful moments.
It would be wrong to say that tonight reveals the ‘real’ Annie, rather that we get to see another aspect of her multifarious talent – it’s yet another reminder of how many ideas are bouncing around her brain. It also shows the depth and adaptability of her songs – tonight focuses predominantly on songs from Masseduction – as well as her astonishing voice.
Tonight she seems relaxed. You feel like you’re seeing under the skin of the songs. She tells the story that led her to write ‘Smoking Section’ when she was on a ferry from Finland to Poland and decided to get a massage from a masseuse who was not used to giving actual massages. “One of the worst decisions I’ve ever made – there was not even a brothel standard of hygiene.”
The tender, fragile grace of these reworkings add drama and words are picked out you may not have noticed before. On early song ‘Savior’, as Bartlett stops pulling on piano strings and leaves a moment of quiet, you hear the lines “They call me a strange girl / and speak to me in bruises”.
As you’d expect for a one off show like this there are a few small missteps – Annie forgets the words to the second verse of ‘Fear the Future’. “All I can think of is ‘When the cum…’” before an audience member helps out. And Bartlett begins playing ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’ instead of ‘Prince Johnny’. “No, that’s the third in the Johnny trilogy,” she mockingly chastises him.
There are unlikely moments – the climax to ‘Pills’, a song which wouldn’t be an obvious choice for this setting, is disconcertingly special. There’s also an exquisite cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Court and Spark’ and ‘Slow Disco’ is sublime. And, when it’s finally time to play ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’, there’s a pregnant pause at the end as she sings a self-castigating, ‘Of course, I blame me’. It’s these delicate and vulnerable moments that make tonight so special.
At one point Annie looks up at the crowd: “I’m worried we played too many happy songs tonight. Are you guys sufficiently bummed out?” Sorry Annie, tonight has felt nearly transcendental.
Photo by Carsten Windhorst