A balmy April evening in LA seemed a million miles away from that cold winter’s evening in Switzerland where I had my first introduction to the delightful Keren Ann Zeidel, but as her appearances here are as about as frequent as ground-frosts (this being only the third time to my knowledge since I moved to La-La-Land that she has played here) – in a venue holding only a couple of hundred like-minded souls – I was rewarded with the most intimate of shows from arguably one of the greatest singer-songwriters of her generation. Backed only by Thomas Bartlett on the keyboard, she regaled us – not as a paying audience, but more as old friends – over the course of the best part of a couple of hours with somethings old, something new (a track from her latest, as yet unreleased, album) and even a chanson ‘en français’.
The set – opening with “End of May” – actually drew heavily from 2007’s eponymous album and 2011’s “101”. There were only a couple of tracks from “Not Going Anywhere” and “Nolita”, including the evening only French language offering, “Que n’ai-je” – it’s my one small (indeed not sure why I’m even mentioning it) criticism in that her first two albums (“La Biographie de Luka Philipsen” and “La Disparition” tend to be criminally under-represented. That being said, Los Angeles isn’t – despite fact-fans hosting the second largest French Expat community in the US – noted for being a particularly Francophone city…
However, there’s more than enough to compensate (when you’ve a back catalogue as rich as Keren Ann’s, what to leave out must be a bit of a challenge). There’s a haunting and poignant version of “You were on fire” ( a beautiful homage to her late father) before, harmonica to hand, we’re treated to “Chelsea burns.” There’s also the best version – on record or live – of “Lay your head down”, arguably one of the greatest contemporary love songs ever-written and the finest 4’46” ever laid down in the studio… Tonight the song just felt personal… hard to explain really, but the message seemed to be addressed to all present.
Keren Ann is also a great story-teller, spending time to tell us of her thoughts and background to some of her songs; “All the beautiful girls” we discover is based upon an old lover – an artist – (“it’s not him – honest”) to whom the denouement is quite humorous, “I thought he was a genius. My friends thought he was an arsehole…”
Joking that old songs given new treatments are really new songs, we are treated to inventive reinterpretations of some standards; “The harder ships of the world” is layered with heavily echoed and reverbed keys. Keren unleashes her inner rock-chick on “It ‘ain’t no crime”, complete with psychedelic keys and a great tumbling jam to end; “Sugar mama” gets the “Peter Gunn” treatment and (with a nod to our location) a touch of the surf-rock guitar, while “My name is trouble” adds staccato guitar and “Blood on my hands” is textured with a deliberate change of pace during the middle-eight, featuring gunshots and ‘plink-plonk’ western saloon piano effects on the keys.
We’re finally treated to a brand new number from destined for her new album (as featured in this very Blog last December). The song is a haunting and biographical tale of a mother seeing in face of her child an old lover, is heart-warmingly evocative. If you haven’t already pledged to help fund her new album, do so now. There is no excuse!
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end as the set ends with – probably to the public at large – her best known song, “Strange weather” and while we must thank both Anna Calvi and David Byrne for bring this song to everyone’s attention, here – with heavy reverb and echo, swirling keys and the guitar crying as if falling rain in a storm – Keren reclaimed ownership…
Keren encores with “Not going anywhere” – and visibly moved – an a cappella cover of the Chet Baker standard “It’s always you.” It was without a doubt the most moving performance I’ve seen…
1. “End of May”
2. “You were on fire”
3. “Chelsea burns”
4. “The harder ships of the world”
5. “Lay your head down”
6. “It ‘ain’t no crime”
7. “Sugar mama”
8. “Que n’ai je”
9. “All the beautiful girls”
10. “In your back”
11. “It’s all a lie”
12. “My name is trouble”
13. “Blood on my hands”
14. New song
15. “Strange weather”
16. “Not going anywhere”
17. “It’s always you” (Chet Baker cover