It’s rare for Em and I to have the time or energy to go out in the week.
Every now and then, though, browsing around the net late at night, you stumble across something at exactly the moment you need it. At a pretty low point, I noticed Paloma Faith had added an extra concert to her sold-out two-gig finale at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I snapped up a pair of tickets to the very last night of her month-long UK tour.
I don’t think I had been to see a gig in Hammersmith since I saw Queensrÿche on their Operation: Mindcrime tour in November 1990 (remember that, Stringbean?).
There was something of a hiatus in my concert-going between 1991 and 2009. I left off with Guns and Roses at Wembley Stadium on 31 August 1991 and resumed with a Jazz Café turn by the brilliant Mark Olson and Gary Louris of The Jayhawks on 12 May 2009. That was quickly followed by 14 May 2009’s stunning turn by Counting Crows at Wembley Arena. The review in The Times didn’t do it justice.
So going to see Paloma Faith was part of my on-going campaign to ensure I don’t slip back into a nineteen-year bad habit of not enjoying live music.
Hammersmith is a great part of London. It feels edgier and grubbier and more alive than the museum space of Westminster, a feeling heightened by a sharp March wind, soft rays of light from a setting sun and the collision of sharp scents – ozone, grilled and spiced meats, exotic tobacco and patchouli.
In a confident gig-going frame of mind I led Em purposefully through the streets of Hammersmith, having chosen to get out at Goldhawk Road tube station (I didn’t even know there was a Goldhawk Road tube station until we were sitting on the District Line at 6.15pm!). Having a pretty good head for directions, I found the Empire quickly and we joined the queue, feeling a little smug that we had found the place with little fuss. Unfortunately, I found the wrong queue, and on reaching the door we stepped out of the one for the stalls and joined the back of the one on the other side of the building for the upper tier.
It was well worth the wait.
The concert opened with Josh Weller, an indie popster with the most incredible hairstyle who previously collaborated with Paloma Faith on the single It’s Christmas (And I Hate You). His band were tight and their songs polished, though most of his set was ruined for me by the woman behind who insisted on talking (read shouting) to her friend through the entire performance (it was nearly a Jack Reacher moment). It was refreshing, too, to see a support act talking so fondly about the head-liner – he clearly has a huge amount of respect for his headlining colleague.
When Paloma Faith finally appeared, a few minutes after 9pm, we roared our approval.
I couldn’t get my head around the fact that this was her first UK tour.
She had energy and confidence and polish in spades, each number note perfect and delivered with phenomenal passion. With a dry and kooky sense of humour, she was backed up by a band of extraordinary talent, who were able to heavy-ify and disco-ify her songs according to Paloma’s mischievous wishes. Introducing her songs with a humorous and relaxed delivery, she was beautifully blunt about the journalist who had accused her of insecurities for highlighting her influences, saying she simply believed in saying “thank you”. She then launched straight into a superb rendition of Billie Holiday’s God Bless The Child.
And how did she bounce around the stage in what looked like four-inch heels? That is definitely a girl mystery.
If you know her debut album, Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?, you’ll know that each song is a creative juxtaposition of melodic even jaunty pop and haunting, occasionally heart-breaking, lyrics. For Romance Is Dead she selected a gentleman from the audience to serenade, hamming up her weary resignation to a love-life of plastic flowers and greasy fingerprints. Later, She poignantly reminded us of the loss of her friend that inspired My Legs Are Weak.
At the very end, closing the formal set list with Play On, and teasing her audience over the possibility of an encore as only someone with a working knowledge of burlesque could do, she had, by dint of omission, left us in no doubt as to her final number – the sing-along pop anthem New York. As the band struck up and Paloma pointed her mic to the audience for the sing-along choruses, it was great to know we were indeed at the start of something beautiful.
I was reading tips recently on how to write reviews and an “expert” writer cautioned would-be reviewers against describing something as “brilliant” or “fantastic”.
Well sod that.
It was a fantastic night out and Paloma Faith was simply brilliant. She will play on for a long time to come – and we can be grateful for that.