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.

Lisa Hannigan – Bleu Lézard – 08.05.2012

It’s been more than eight months since I posted a gig review here. For that I can mostly blame moving from Amsterdam to Geneva (fewer gigs on tap) and becoming a father (fewer opportunities to go out). So I was really pleased to be able to go to see Lisa Hannigan in Lausanne this week, in a tiny venue that was packed to the gills with a very appreciative audience. While my favourite artists don’t tend to play in this region all that often, the good thing is that, when they do, they play in small venues.

Lisa Hannigan managed to squeeze herself plus five band members onto the small stage, which also accommodated a drum kit, keyboards, a glockenspeil and something that I think is called a harmonium, plus the usual guitars, banjo, ukelele, bass, etc. So the venue was packed, the stage was packed, and it was hot and sweaty. But what a great gig! She played most of the tracks from her newest album Passenger, of which Safe Travels and What’ll I Do were my favourites. The Ray Lamontagne part on the duet O Sleep was taken by her guitarist John Smith, whose voice isn’t a million miles from that of the man he was filling in for. My friend Chantal reminded me that I had seen John Smith playing before. (I see now that I described him as a Ray Lamontagne soundalike at the time.)

From the first album, Sea Sew, she played five songs, the best of which were Ocean And A Rock and I Don’t Know, plus a really beautiful rendition of Lille (which she first attempted to sing in French, but forgot the lyrics). The encore included a tribute to the recently deceased Levon Helm of The Band: a very cool, almost unplugged version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, with Lisa, John, and the keyboard player each taking a verse in turn, and some nice singing along from the audience.

My friend Marc bought Sea Sew on vinyl (CDs all sold out) and got her to sign it.

Marc with Lisa Hannigan

My blurry friend Marc with a blurry Lisa Hannigan

Bell x1 – Amstelkerk – 09.12.2010

You can’t really go wrong with the unplugged format. If (and I suppose that can be a big if) the songs are strong enough, any professional band should be able to pull off an entertaining set with just a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass and a sprinkling of piano. And yet I couldn’t help thinking to myself during this gig that Bell x1 were doing a much better job than, say, the likes of Snow Patrol might have managed. There was a classiness and a musicality to their performance that gave it a real warmth and depth. (I could imagine something more, well, cold and shallow.) And it was mostly relaxed and good-natured, despite a couple of (very minor) early problems with the sound and a guitar falling over at one stage.

It was my first time in this venue, a small-ish church beside the Prinsengracht. It was a seated gig with a sold-out crowd of about 300-350 who listened quietly to every song. The listening was rewarded with a set of really nice performances of old and new songs. I particularly enjoyed Flame, Eve the Apple of my Eye and a couple of the songs they played from their new (unreleased?) album. They finished the main set encouraging everyone to sing along to The Great Defector, and then came back for an encore that started with an apparently never before performed (but understandably well-received) tribute to the time Noonan spent living in Amsterdam (“Amsterdam says”). They wrapped things up with I’ll See Your Heart, segueing into The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

All in all a very enjoyable set in a lovely venue. Paul Noonan is a charismatic and entertaining frontman, but Dave Geraghty seems to be the glue that holds it all together. It’ll be interesting to see whether they recruit a new drummer for future tours. I’m not sure how far the unplugged format will take them from here.

The support act was John Smith, a Ray LaMontagne soundalike who played just four songs. It may have been a short set, but it was a very impressive one, particularly when he swung the guitar onto his lap and tapped, hammered and plucked out his final song, Winter. (Check it out on YouTube here.)

And here’s some Bell x1 from the current tour – it’s that The Great Defector singalong.