The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Thursday, October 17, 2002
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 16 October 2002

DJ sets. I like DJ sets as support acts. I can't remember who the two DJs were last night (let's for the sake of convenient tropism call them Leverkuhn and Famulus) but their selections were restrained, dying inside, forever 1971 as can only be viewed from a 21st-century perspective. A balm of underheard whispers from the sort of '70s about which BBC2 on a Saturday evening will disclose absolutely nothing - Nyro, Riperton, Callier, Lucien, Axelrod, Nancy and Lee, even Bread ("It Don't Matter To Me" which further suggests that rehabilitation for David Gates is long overdue). A nod to the comparable late '60s - "Alone Again Or," Gainsbourg/Birkin's Pulp template "Jane B" - and then, out of nowhere, Donna Summer's oceanic ovary of a record, "Down Deep Inside," which never appears on any of her compilations (John Barry-related copyright reasons, apparently; it does appear on a few of the latter's compilations) - Barry, literally, meets Moroder, the greatest Bond theme there never was; the central section where it all dissolves into aqueous dub before the strings re-emerge like the Titanic's bow port. Then the waves started to roar...

...and Beth came on stage with her six-piece band. "It's been a bloody long time since I've been up here," she said, grinning nervously at the audience, but she hadn't changed. Still half-crouching over her microphone, protecting it like a child, or trying to hide from it - the anti-Gallagher - she launched quietly into "Mysteries." The voice stopped everyone dead, as it should do; not forward in nature, but systematically radiating to every part of the theatre, every atom of your heart.

This was the live premiere of Out Of Season (see album review on 27 Sep 02). All the songs were heard, albeit out of sequence. No Portishead songs were performed, but the influence was far more palpable than is sometimes evident on the album, the sonorities more forceful when required. "Romance" illustrated her great ability to handle dramatic silences - no one dared to breathe in the pauses before she whispered "but that's not me."

For "Tom The Model" the theatre was bathed in blood-red light and the performance was much closer to Portishead than the R&B arrangement on the album - this song took on new colours, expanded its existing emotions. Conversely, the searing lament of "Funny Time Of Year," which closed the main part of the performance, was propelled by the band into a hammering kaddish. And there was no need for Gibbons to sing anything further on top of it; her starkly clear emotional turmoil was already evident, her voice emphatic and shattering without the need for Whitney-style arpeggio aerobics. During the instrumental climax she went for a brief walkabout among the adoring audience, getting a light for her fag, signing some autographs, and then ambled back on stage as if to say, "well that's how I cope - how about you?"

There was one more song to come, though, saved for the encore - "Show," for which the stage was appropriately illuminated by Blue light. A devastating last rite for something which is now out of reach. "The words that we'll never know." Piano, violin and double bass, all trying to play as quietly as possible, all turning in upon themselves. There was more than one person crying.

"I hope that was OK!" beamed an unsure Beth. It was more than that. It destroyed me.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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