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.