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.

Lynched – Eglise Catholique de Bernex – 12.02.2016

Three gigs in just over a week: I’m a lucky man! Having seen The Tallest Man on Earth in the city centre the night before, last night’s Lynched concert involved a trek out to the commune of Bernex where the local Catholic church was the venue. (Antigel makes a virtue of using unusual venues throughout the canton of Geneva – it’s a really great idea.)

This was another sell-out gig, making it clear that the interest in traditional Irish music is as strong as ever. I did recognise a few fellow Irish ex-pats (ex-Paddys?!) in the audience, but I had the feeling it was mostly Francophone.

I hadn’t heard of Lynched before my friend Chantal pointed them out in the festival programme. They’ve seemingly been making waves in trad circles in the last few years and I can see why. They turned in two really entertaining sets of ballads, folks songs and tunes, with a really nice flow to the evening overall. From rousing singalongs (Salonika, Daffodil Mulligan, Billy O’Shea) to more mellow ballads, and a smattering of jigs and reels, there was enough variety to hold everyone’s interest until the end.

When all four of them sang in harmony it really raised the roof; but probably the highlight for me was when Radie Peat (the only female member of the foursome) sang her spine-tingling unaccompanied version of Dig My Grave (if that’s the title of the song), about a father who finds his daughter hanging from a rope in her bedroom. A bit grim, but a haunting song. She has a great voice that repeatedly helped their songs to soar when she came in on a harmony.

Lynched in Bernex, February 2016

The church was a pretty good venue. A little chilly, and apparently the sound wasn’t as good as it could have been for those sitting further back. But it was certainly atmospheric. Some of the song lyrics might have raised the eyebrows of the parishioners had they fully understood them, but the band were mostly on their best behaviour in the house of the God.

(I should also mention the clapping. There were a number of people in the crowd who were determined to attempt to clap along with every song that was even moderately upbeat, and even some of the slower ones. I don’t know whether they thought this what one does with Irish folk music or were just very excited, but, whatever the reason, it was excruciating. They were out of time with the music most of the time, sometimes dramatically so. It must have been really annoying for the musicians, but they didn’t say anything about it. Perhaps they should have.)

Here’s what you missed

Keaton Henson – Temple de Chêne-Bougeries – 07.02.2014

The Antigel festival marks the start of the cultural year in Geneva, bringing international acts of all kinds to perform in unusual venues around the canton. My friend Chantal suggested a trip out to a surprisingly pretty little church in the suburb of Chêne-Bougeries to see Keaton Henson. He’s a folkie singer-songwriter from England described by the festival programme as celebrating “the coming together of Randy Newman and Damien Rice, of Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith, four of his avowed role models”.

The Rice and Buckley parts of that equation were certainly evident, the latter when he played a reverb-soaked electric guitar. (His encore of Hallelujah did a good job of channelling the ghost of Jeff Buckley, but it was a shame he hadn’t rehearsed it beforehand: it took him four verses to work out the correct chords.) Like Damien Rice his songs used quite standard chord sequences, but had flashes of lovely melodies with suitably emotional lyrics. So far, so good.

But in the end it was all a bit, well, boring. The pace only ever reached a step or two beyond dreary and after a while each song blended into the next. I saw heads dropping all around the room mid-way through. The comparison with Elliott Smith is particularly inapt, as one thing Keaton Henson could learn from Smith is a pop sensibility that can make even the slow songs more hummable, memorable, catchy, etc. (Damien Rice is pretty good at this too.)

He was, as the programme suggested, a very shy presence on stage. Frankly, it doesn’t make for great entertainment if you have to strain to hear the mumbled lyrics and between-song utterings. It’s a pity, because I think there’s a good songwriter lurking in there somewhere.

He does make nice videos though…

Keaton Henson – Small Hands from Blink on Vimeo.