I’M not a music person. Well, not a music person in the sense that: I usually ‘discover’ a song six months after it’s been played all over the radio. I go to festivals and have to take a rest behind the Portaloos after the second act because my feet are hurting. Concepts such as tempo changes and layering are not ones I can speak authoritatively on, and I’m not even really sure I could tell the difference between a bass guitar and a … what’s the other one?
I do, however, know what I like. I know when I’ve been treated to a good show when seeing a live music act. And Kimbra + the Union Chapel + a voice that takes the concept of a limited vocal range and stamps it’s pretty little foot all over it = Like.
From the minute you walk into this otherwise working church and literally pull up a pew in front of a stage that circles around a central marble pulpit, you know you’re in for a unique gig experience. This isn’t your run of the mill small venue fare of warm beer slopped over lino floors. No, Union Chapel is a cavernous and sophisticated space of stained glass windows, wooden benches and fairy lights flickering like tea candles that immediately sets a relaxed mood.
The crowd is subdued to start, a consequence of a long Wednesday at work, and a melodic warm-up act in Cody Chesnutt, whose soulful solo commentaries on respecting your mother and being a good citizen, feel – in this context – to be a little Sunday school preachy. The echoing stone walls need a big voice to fill the space, to restore the energy that the low lighting has sucked from the crowd.
Enter, Kimbra. From the minute this wonder from Down Under (Hamilton, New Zealand to be exact) bounces on stage – a tiny slip of a thing in a pink 80s prom dress – she compels her voice through a series of vocal gymnastics that defies comprehension. Songs are variously whispered, spoken, tunefully sung or belted out over a rollercoaster of octaves. Her band, also dressed like they raided the costume closet of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, provide the appropriate layers of drums and guitar to help amplify her sound.
Working through her album Vows, Kimbra ranges from jazz influenced ‘Good Intent’ to the 80s inspired ‘Warrior’. My old favorites, ‘Settle Down’ and ‘Cameo Lover’ were deftly covered, complete with jolting dances and tambourine banging that made Kimbra leap about the stage like an energetic doll on a marionette string. Looping vocals used on Nina Simone’s ‘Plain Gold Ring’ ensured the Chapel was filled with multiple Kimbras, all contorting their voices to hit a unique range.
Her enthusiasm was infections, and all the more impressive for coming on the back of a long European Tour that took in more than 15 cities. Telling the crowd that she never imagined Union Chapel would be her first gig in London, she admitted she had thought “I’d be in the pub playing to four people”.
If the intimate show at the Chapel is anything to go by, that is one pub gig I’d love to see.