O2 Academy, Oxford
9th September 2009
Let me be clear – I’d turn up to see Emiliana Torrini sing the phonebook. But it doesn’t mean that I think everything she sings is perfect. I loved the dreamy electronica of 1999’s Love in the Time of Science, but found 2005’s Fisherman’s Woman achingly beautiful yet sad and difficult to listen to (fitting for a work borne out of several personal tragedies). And last year’s Me and Armini was a little on the odd side. For example, according to Emiliana tonight, that album’s title track is about a stalker whose spirit has entered her via whisky…
However, her performance tonight wins me over and makes me reappraise those two most recent albums. The focus is her voice, and her versatile five-piece backing band visit everything from table steel guitar to harmonium, glochenspiel and bowed cymbals to recreate her records’ varied instrumentation around it.
Her songs are unashamedly personal; she means them, rather than acts them, and takes her time to explain them to us.
It’s almost as if you have to see her singing to really appreciate it. Her voice can be both strong and vulnerable, melancholy and uplifting. Quirky like her fellow Icelander Bjork and at times reminiscent of the Sugarcubes (her drummer Siggi was a founding member), she’s not bothered about sticking to genres; Me and Armini visits reggae and Heard It All Before jazz and ska, yet she mostly sticks to the acoustic folk of songs like Heartstopper and Fireheads, occasionally veering towards the strangely prog in Gun and into the lush synths of To Be Free. Unemployed in Summertime was originally trip hoppy, but tonight it’s more like jazz and country – yet doesn’t lose any of its charm. And big European hit Jungle Drum is far less twee live.
Lovely is the best word for it, and I leave feeling all warm and fuzzy.
From Nightshift, October 2009