Lisa Hannigan – Alhambra – 10.02.2017

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost five years since I saw Lisa Hannigan playing in Lausanne. That gig was in a much smaller, more intimate venue, which is one reason I enjoyed it more than last night’s Antigel date in Geneva. But I think it was also because I have been finding it hard to get into her most recent album, At Swim. She remains a wonderful singer, a talented musician and a clever songwriter, but the newer songs feel a bit less immediate and somehow colder than those on her first two albums. I don’t think she played anything from her first album, Sea Sew, last night; and the songs from Passenger were among the best on the night.

Overall, as a musical experience it was really enjoyable. She was backed by drums, bass, guitar and keyboard, with all four musicians also contributing backing vocals. They created a really impressive sound together. While the newest album doesn’t have the hooks or gentle humour of the first two, it seems to be musically more complex. She does amazing things with her voice, riding over the top of the music and creating beautiful harmonies that sound almost dissonant at times. It was good, though, that she brought the set back to some of the warmer, more jaunty songs from time to time. It risked getting a bit too intense otherwise!

John Smith (who played guitar in her band) was the support act again, as in Lausanne, although I think he had less time than expected owing to an overrun by the opening act Melissa Kassab. (She’s a local lass, I think. She has a lovely voice and is a nice guitarist, but I felt her songs needed a bit more structure, or perhaps just some choruses. She played 8-10 songs, where 4-6 might have been more appropriate given the slot. Still, fair play to her for delivering a confident performance.) Mr Smith sounded a bit less like Ray Lamontagne than the previous times I’d seen him. He still has a powerful voice and plays the guitar beautifully. His between-song banter was entertaining but I would have preferred a bit less chat and a bit more music.

Coming back to Lisa Hannigan, here’s a nice performance of Fall, which is one of the best songs on the latest album.

The Tallest Man on Earth – Alhambra – 11.02.2016

I had seen Kristian Matsson live twice before, both times in Amsterdam and both times solo. This full band gig was part of the wonderful and eclectic Antigel festival and took place in Geneva’s recently refurbished Alhambra. The venue is lovely: great acoustics and comfortable seats, although the lines of sight aren’t great from the sides of the first balcony.

The best parts of this mixed bag of a concert were definitely when he was left alone on stage to perform (mostly) acoustic versions of songs from his earlier albums. He’s a really talented guitarist with a powerful voice that is sounding much less nasal and whiny these days.

Sadly, however, for much of the time when he played with the band it just felt a bit flat. The older songs, which were previously played solo, didn’t translate well to the full band arrangements. (King of Spain was a notable example here.) The material from his two most recent albums, which feature full band arrangements, mostly didn’t stand up as well live as it does on record.

There didn’t seem to be any chemistry at all between the musicians, as if these were just a random bunch of (admittedly talented) session musicians that he hired to accompany him on the road. There was no spark, no feeling of spontaneity, no interplay between the main man and his backing group. In fact the only time there was any feeling of synergy between musicians was when his support act (and apparently best friend) The Tarantula Waltz joined him on stage for one of the closing tracks.

After seeing him in 2011 I wrote:

We also got some insight into what must I guess must be a difficult process of working out where he should go next. He’s not quite a one-trick pony, but after two albums there’s probably not much more he can squeeze out of the Dylanesque folky thing without sounding repetitive. So it was that he was joined by a drummer and bassist for three songs.

It turns out I was at least partly right. His subsequent album There’s No Leaving Now, which I like a lot, features more instruments and more variety. But with this particular band, at least in Geneva last Thursday, the songs just didn’t fly. One exception was 1904, which is one of the best songs on that album and came across well in the Alhambra.

(The flat atmosphere “you’re all very polite” he said might have been partly due to it being a fully seated gig. I think they can remove the seats from the ground floor of the Alhambra, which would have helped greatly and also allowed more people into what was a fully sold-out gig.)

Here’s the version of King of Spain that I would like to have heard:

He did play this one, I won’t be found, solo on Thursday and it was great!