Pennsylvania-born singer, songwriter and pianist Vanessa Carlton returned to London after a thirteen-year absence in style, following a capacity show at North London’s Lexington earlier this month, she was back at the bigger Scala venue to wrap up her European tour in support of fifth studio album Liberman.
Probably, and unfortunately, still best known for her 2002 hit single A Thousand Miles from debut album Be Not Nobody, Carlton could have been written off as a one-hit wonder star. But Liberman, her freshest and most raw album to date proves that she’s come a long way since then and can easily leave her hit behind.
But she doesn’t, and instead kicks off her 14-song set with her biggest hit. Appearing on stage behind a Yamaha electric piano and accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Skye Steele on keys, guitar and violin she says “okay, let’s get this out of the way”, allowing her to focus on why she’s here and why we should all really be here. But the screams from the crowd are still rife for A Thousand Miles, regardless of how dully she plays it, the song very obviously a chore for Carlton to plough through.
“Let us begin” she says dryly, with a smile now spreading across her face as she gets to play what she really wants to, with 2011’s Rabbits On The Run namesake track Carousel kicking off her true set, this stripped back rendition on piano and violin gently lulling the North London crowd.
With the 35-year-old suggesting that the pair would play Liberman material in the order it appears on the record, album opener Take It Easy was next up, Steele dipping into his synths to provide a beat to accompany some dramatically reverberated violins.
Taking sips from a teacup Carlton joked “make no mistake, there’s white wine in this teacup” to cheers, “it’s the last show of the tour folks!” Taking some time out to delve into the history of next song Willows she said that it was “very much about the weeping willow trees of Pennsylvania” she grew up around before delving into the new relationship she has with her mother since becoming a mother herself and setting up her own nest in Nashville.
Introducing Liberman track House Of Seven Swords, Carlton digressed into a lengthy monologue about how she met Skye Steele and he transitioned from a classical violinist into a multi-instrumentalist and then onto how House Of Seven Swords related to a tarot card she had found around the time of her brother Edmund’s college graduation.
Single Operator followed, Carlton making use of a secondary microphone to emulate the sound of a telephone operator, Steele switching between operating synth drums and violin before another long monologue from the Pennsylvania native, where she discussed her maternal grandfather – real name Liberman – who had changed his ethnic-sounding name to make a success of his business in New York before retiring to his painting in later life, with Carlton’s favourite piece of his forming the stage backdrop.
Next up was stunning single Blue Pool, the water theme resonating from her delicate piano playing ahead of more guitar-driven Liberman cut Nothing Where Something Used To Be, Carlton’s piano adding depth before Steele once again added a sombreness to the tune with violin.
The story behind Unlock The Lock was told next, with Carlton’s inspiration stemming from a locks and keys-themed Bob Dylan-hosted radio show she caught while on holiday with her parents in the Arizona desert.
“Who’s ever drunk talking, I can hear you” she warned, highlighting the pin-drop silence required at tonight’s quiet and intimate show. “Everyone can hear you, please shut the fuck up” she continued, to laughs and cheers from the otherwise motionless audience.
River was described as the only song Carlton could play to calm down her baby daughter from who she was away from for an extended period for the first time to come to Europe for this tour. “Maybe you’re here out of curiosity or maybe you’ve been waiting every day for 13 years” she said, addressing her long absence from the London stage before breaking into the quiet Liberman cut.
Rabbits On The Run song Hear The Bells rounded out the main set before the night was closed out with a short encore of Liberman tune Matter Of Time and haunting Rabbits On The Run song The Marching Line.
Liberman, and even Rabbits On The Run which preceded it, are a million miles away from 2002’s Be Not Nobody and it’s hit single. Tonight’s show is refreshingly raw, the songs stripped-back even further from their delicate recorded versions but given a haunting depth courtesy of Steel’s additional instrumentation that makes the night work. This is a mature woman sat in front of us tonight, a mother herself and a far cry from the child that hit the spotlight all those years ago. And she’s worth your attention.
Tonight’s Scala show rounds out a European tour which started in London, touched on Bristol, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris amongst others before closing out just a few hundred metres from where it began.
Live review of Vanessa Carlton @ Scala by Kalpesh Patel on 18th May 2016.
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