Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Heather Nova - 14/03/2006, Arenberg Schouwburg, Antwerpen

I never see Heather Nova mentioned in the internet music circles I run in. I like her anyway. IVN's the real fan, though. Of the CDs I've heard, my favourite is "Storm:" very intimate and less guitar-strummy than her other albums. How can you not fall for an album that starts off declaring "Let's Not Talk About Love" but ends up admitting that it's a "Fool For You?" Live, Nova sounds just like she does on record, ie. incredible. Her voice is slightly veiled in the lower registers and improbably cristalline, strong and supple in her trademark head voice. Further, she doesn't just move between them judiciously, but naturally and fluidly. She strolled through two sets worth of songs culled from several albums and Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" served as encore.

The concert was pretty stripped-down, which suited the 810-seat theater fine: Nova on guitar, New Zealand violinist Fiona Pears and pianist Ian Tilley. The violinist provided an instrumental second voice and the pianist added body, but never led. He was like (to take a movie cliché) the super-dependable, dark-haired, not-quite-cute-enough-to-be-gay friend to the two blonde female leads. The first set was good, the second set was fantastic: Nova's voice gained in warmth and amplitude during the interval (maybe because she had traded her dress and high heels for jeans and Converse All-Stars and let her hair down (literally)?) and was devastating during a solo voice 'n' guitar stretch. Pears had ironed out a few clams and "let's pretend I played all the notes in that fast run" moments she had early on. Tilley was, well, as dependable as ever.

Both sets started with a little piano-violin tomfoolery written by Pears: a Celtic-influenced dance, tango-ish tune (but apparently titled "Turkish Fantasy"?) and a Russian folk tune. I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of this kind of skimming of various folklores, which I've witnessed in a number of concerts over the years and a few recently and has never seemed to serve any purpose. Heather Nova just does American folk-rock and makes it meaningful. Bandeonist Dino Saluzzi (whom I saw for the first time 11 days ago) plays sophisticated tango and explores it deeply. Too often, the superficial playing of folk tunes resembles a brisk guided bus tour for tourists ("on your left the Pantheon, on your right the Acropolis" vs. "and now a dance from Sardinia; and now a Moroccan rhythm") more than anything else.

There was some electronic enhancement when Nova sampled herself into a choir of virtual clones for one song's climax. She had used her "new gadget" (as she called it) previously to accompany a poem reading, but in a surprisingly "experimental" way: two high-pitched vocal drones in a close, dissonant interval and breath. Apart from a line about having to step out of (or did she say "remove?") one's skin to really feel it, the poem itself was rather bland and ineffectually delivered.

Those two gripes aside, a thoroughly mesmerising second set.