As I enter the Anson Rooms I don’t quite recognise it at first. The stage has been beautifully decorated with fairy lights and floor lamps, basking the array of instruments waiting to be played in a cosy, warm light. The last few bars of the intermission music fade out and the room falls into expectant, excited quiet.
The seated crowd peer over each other, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the artist we’re all here to see: Natalie Imbruglia. The Australian singer, perhaps best known for her 90’s hit ‘Torn’, is just embarking on a UK tour. Playing a string of dates throughout England and Scotland, those looking for a nostalgia trip are in for a treat. Imbruglia puts on a great show.
First her band come on, quietly set up, and begin an atmospheric, improvised introduction. The band is modest, just a guitar, piano, and bass. Simplistic but perfectly suited to the intimate show. And yes, despite the Anson Rooms being a 1,200 capacity venue, the show is incredibly intimate. The combination of the stage design, and seated crowd create the sense of being in a small cafe or bar rather than a large gig venue.
After a few minutes of the exquisite, instrumental intro Imbruglia takes to the stage. You can’t help but get caught up in the excitement of the room, and despite not having been alive long enough for it to be possible, I start to feel nostalgic.
Imbruglia captivates the room, playing songs spanning her entire career. There’s her original take on Daft Punk and Julian Casablancas’ ‘Instant Crush’ which, whilst a total departure from the electro funk infused original, still manages to preserve all of the original’s heart crushing feel. And of course (as if I even need to say it) ‘Torn’ is triumphant; the highlight of an excellent show.
Photo courtesy of Peer Dollinger.
Songhoy Blues are a band with a story. Having had to leave their hometown of Timbuktu due to civil unrest in the wake of the imposition of Sharia Law which, amongst other things, banned music, the band formed in Bamako and since then have been sharing their joyful brand of Desert Blues with the world.
On their UK tour they played the Anson rooms last Friday. The room was packed, as may be expected the band’s unusual and upbeat music had drawn an unusual and upbeat crowd. People of all ages and walks of life gathered to groove to their African infused blues.
Blending Malian vocals and percussion to classic Rock ‘n’ Roll guitar riffs the band have an interesting and eclectic sound. They’re all highly accomplished musicians, Nat Dembele keeps tight time on the drums, Garba Toure plays riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a stones record and frontman Aliou Toure sings and dances around the stage with seemingly endless energy.
Set highlights include the groove laden ‘Bamako’ with its sketchy guitar intro and funky verses and the hyperactive, joyous ‘Yersi Yadda’. But beyond the music Songhoy also represented something much greater . There was a sense of community running through the entire night. From their song ‘One Colour’ with its outro of ‘together, yes we can’, to the diverse crowd and the multiple languages the band sang in, it was a beautiful evening of music and fellowship. Aliou Toure summed it up well when he said ‘humans are like spices, you got to mix them all together to make the curry nice’.
The crowd took some warming up, it’s true. It’s just a good thing we had Kelly Convey on hand. The intimate crowd in the Anson Rooms Bar instantly warmed up after a few jokes on sex, chickens, and those famous flakey ‘Fresher friends’. And with the first laugh of the night, the rest rolled on easily.
Kelly’s comedy was characterised by her infamous ‘no filter approach’, satirising everything from Catholic School to Take Me Out. She also served as a fantastic compère, introducing the other acts with a charm and energy that ensured an enjoyable momentum throughout the night.
The first act of the evening, Ed Night, lived up to his reputation as a rising star within British comedy. Despite only having been performing since 2014, he was at ease on stage, confident whilst improvising and interacting with the audience - that is until a woman in the crowd demanded a more Beyoncé influenced set. (I know, we’re still confused as well). His humour was intelligent and topical, posing questions on everything from racism and Brexit to whether it was time to give crack cocaine a well needed PR makeover.
Sophie Duker, the following act, provided an interesting comparison to her previous comedians. The co-host of the cult comedy revue, ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girls’ and regular writer for BBC Comedy and Cartoon Network, approached issues of race, gender and pop culture with a sophisticated yet skilfully lighthearted manner. More than that, to put it simply, she was really bloody funny. A particular strong moment of her set, and a personal highlight of mine, included her declaration that Prince George, from our precious royal family, ‘looked like a prick’. Something, she thought, which may be down to the fact he’s dressed like ‘an Edwardian Ghost’. Well, she’s not wrong about that part.
The night culminated in a performance by Richard Gadd, a comedian who has not only been awarded the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award (who’s other recipients include the likes of Steve Coogan and Al Murray) but who is fresh off a sell-out, two-month run in London’s West End with his show ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’. He was instantly startling; he chucked an empty row of seats to the ground, he sang along to a backing track composed of a mixture between his own voice and Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, he even interrupted his own jokes. This was a comedian that made you sweat just as much as laugh, and you know what? It was fantastic. The high intensity performances clearly had traces of his previous comedic history, building on his reputation as a comedian who bravely incorporates his experience as a sexual abuse victim in order to undermine stagnant definitions of ‘masculinity’ and give a platform to the issue of anxiety. ‘Important satire’ is what he labelled it, in an almost throwaway quip, and indeed - I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it.
Drive-By Truckers marked 20 years of being together with their newest and most politically charged album, American Band, with songs that tell stories about race and discrimination.
The audience was a diverse mix of all age groups; from the old rockers who had followed the band from it’s inception, to the teenage student curious to witness the band’s capabilities. They opened with Filthy and Fried from their newest album, which was followed by a mix of old and new songs.
The album, American Band, was recorded and produced in Nashville’s historic South Emporium with the support of long-time producer David Barbe. Their sound of alternative country and Southern rock lifted the Anson Rooms with songs such as Kinky Hypocrite along with Surrender Under Protest and Ever South.
The band ended the concert with their single What It Means, a track which described the racial violence in America. The song serves as a heart-to-heart protest of the stereotypes and discrimination between the social classes in America.
Though the songs were political, Drive-by Truckers can sing their protests in a way that made them approachable and warm; we were treated to a concert that was loud, rocking and authentic - all things present in the Drive-By Trucker’s DNA.
Julia Holter showcased her new album ‘Have You in My Wilderness’ bringing a raw and warm atmosphere to the Anson Rooms crowd.
Julia Holter was on tour with her new album that Rolling Stone magazine described as a “Bjork-ian fractal of voices, strings and harpsichord shards” with sounds from French 17th century classical music to jazz-infused rock.
This did not come as a surprise as Julia Holter is renowned for her unique avant garde style of music that tends to mix different music genres such as pop, classical, electronic and jazz - creating music that cannot be categorised as anything other than Julia Holter’s own.
The ability to use different genres of music to create her own style in music was manifested in the Anson Rooms. She mesmerized the crowd with songs that were written from the heart and aimed to explore love, trust and power in Human Relationships.
This hybrid of sounds has ranked ‘Have You In My Wilderness’ as the best album of 2015 by Mojo Magazine, which she proved in her performance that included songs such as Vasquez, Betsy on the Roof and Sea Calls me Home. All songs that with their own characteristic and sound transported The Anson Rooms to a warm breezy night in Los Angeles allowing us into Julia Holter’s mysterious and heartfelt world.
Agnes Obel is a globally-renowned artist that has won many of her listener’s hearts with music that balances an abstract surreal soundscape whilst connecting with her broad audience.
Based in Berlin but originally from Copenhagen, Agnes Obel played centrestage, performing classical folk music on a keyboard and her all-female ensemble playing two cellos and an electric drum kit.
The first part of the concert was dedicated to her latest album ‘Citizen of Glass’ with her light and minimalistic sound evoking a proper Scandinavian vibe throughout her performance. After the first half, the set list consisted of songs from her two first albums and the long-anticipated Riverside and The Curse.
The simplicity and darkness in her music also shined through in Agnes Obel’s performance. Her appearance resembled a simple silhouette performing on stage with her company of multi-instrumental musicians, which created a collective of talent and finesse. All of this together gave the performance an almost supernatural atmosphere, with songs such as Philharmonics, Fuel to the Fire and her best-known song Riverside taking the audience into another universe, only consisting of tones, harmonies and melodies.
It was an old friend that came to visit when Anson Rooms veterans Teenage Fanclub made an appearance in Bristol.
Although Teenage Fanclub are close to celebrating their 30-year anniversary as band, the band’s popularity still seems as great as when the band started in the mid-eighties. Tickets had sold out quickly and people had travelled from afar to see the band perform in the Bristol venue, some from as close as Wales and some from as far as Canada.
The rock ambience was vivid as the band performed for an eager crowd, with a sound that echoes back to the sounds of the Beach Boys and The Byrds, Teenage Fanclub delivered a performance with a mix of their newest songs and old favourites.
The band opened the concert with their 1997’s Start Again followed by the dreamy Sometimes I Don’t Need To Believe In Anything . The band also played songs from their newest album Here among others was Hold on that showed how Teenage Fanclub’s new album has elements of lightness with their warm duelling guitar lines combines with their perfectly timed harmonies.
It was joyous to see Teenage Fanclub’s strong and lively performance. Along with the enthusiastic crowd, Teenage Fanclub’s performance showed that The Anson Rooms is the home of their Bristol fanbase.
Midlake performed a completely sold out show at The Anson Rooms on the 25th of February, 2014.
The Texan sextet mainly were showcasing their fourth studio album Antiphon on the Southwestern leg of their tour in the UK, soon to be playing in Manchester and London by the end of the month. Despite the recent shift in the band's structure (backing vocalist Eric Pulido recently having to take the reigns in place of Tim Smith) the act carried themselves strong through the 90 minutes performance.
Not at all phased by having to perform to a male-dominated audience they still gave the crowd their whole-hearted rapport and played their set with their hearts on their sleeves throughout.
Playing tried and tested songs "Roscoe", "Young Bride" and finishing the set with their most recent song "The Old and The Young", although they certainly don't overtake the stage with their presence I found myself completely immersed in their dark, spectral sounds.
As always, if you can spot Big Jeff and his bouncy hair bobbing amongst the crowd, you know that you're in for a cracking performance.
Opening as support for Leon Bridges was soul singer Grace, although not very well known here she's a big name in Australia. She opened the set with a series of engaging original numbers and closed with a rendition of "Valerie".
Leon graced the stage dressed in suave attire, suited, booted and looking the part to take us through a soulful setlist. You could see that despite his initial shyness he could not stop smiling at the completely packed-out venue.
He commanded the respect of not only the audience but his band as well, every time the musician would burst into song it seemed as if they played out of the highest admiration to Bridge's pure and unwavering voice, tying the band together in one brilliantly orchestrated performance, completely authentic of Northern Soul.
Despite calls to finish with his song "Shine", he closed with the comment and following track: “I wrote that song about my mother… but her favourite is still ‘Coming Home'”.