Live Review: KT Tunstall – Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 13/11/13

KT Tunstall’s latest album, Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon saw a distinct departure from the electro-pop theme of her previous album Tiger Suit; a melow, acoustically driven piece that reflects what has largely been something of a bad year for the artist. But is this slower pace reflected in Tunstall’s performance at Birmingham Symphony Hall? 

Russ Fay: OK yes, the majority of the songs KT performed were from the latest album, which is tonally very different from her previous work. Yet, the stage presence of Tunstall and the inclusion of some songs from older LPs and EPs reminds the audience of the fun, charming past records which work with surprising effectiveness with the new sound.

Whilst the performance was a solo acoustic outing, you are never performing alone with a trusty loop pedal. And it was with the loop pedal (nicknamed “wee bastard” with what can only be assumed as affection) that Tunstall uses to fill in the gap left behind by the absent backing band. It is a joy to see the layers of a song become gradually built up through Tunstall’s use of the guitar as a percussion instrument, combined with skillful playing and excellent vocals. Used to particularly good effect during “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”, which suffered a small bout of split personality and became “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes half way through. As for the grand finale, the audience were treated to “Crescent Moon”, “Suddenly I See” and “Chimes”. “Suddenly I See” was a call back to early Tunstall, which got everybody on their feet, and “Chimes” kept everyone standing in what can only really be described as an awed, stunned reverie. The fact remains that Tunstall has, with some small aid from the loop pedal and what I counted as no more than 4 different instruments, performed some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

It is with no exaggeration that Russ states the performance as “some of the most beautiful music” he has ever heard, and I entirely concur. KT Tunstall positively graced the Symphony Hall stage on 13th November, and as a stage that has hosted thousands of world-class orchestras, musicians, artists and performers, that is no mean feat.

Laura Wilkes: To begin the night, Billy Lockett stepped onto stage and picked up his guitar. As I looked over the balcony on which we were sat, the gleams of around 20 mobile screen lights of those sat in the stalls below shone brightly, as people were checking their messages and social sites whilst Billy started up his first song. My heart sank a little. Needless to say, ten minutes later there was complete darkness in the crowd, as Billy sang out his heartfelt lyrics, great earthy guitar riffs and charmed the crowd with his fresh honesty in between songs.

“This next song is about record labels, how they’re rubbish and how fans mean so much more” he stated, to cheers of the crowd, before playing his song “Pathways”. “It’s not easy when the men in suits decide your fate. It used to be about the music, playing bars for my best friends” he sang, in a song that now has an abundance of listens on my iPod. Another highlight of Lockett’s set was his performance of “Don’t Waste All Your Time on Me” on piano, inspired by a marriage proposal of a soldier to his wife that Billy played a part in not long ago. A little more sombre, “Don’t Waste All Your Time on Me” tells of the pain involved in a soldier giving away the love of their life in order to leave for war. This wouldn’t be an honest review if I said that it didn’t make me cry a little. Such a brilliant opening act.

As Russ has said above, you’re never alone with the “wee bastard” by your side, and with golden trousers and a trademark black waistcoat, KT Queen of Cool Tunstall walked onto the stage and immediately filled the  Symphony Hall with gorgeous sound. I say Queen of Cool, but this was most definitely not the flashy ‘rock-chick’ cool that we saw on the cover of second album Drastic Fantastic, an album which we now know doesn’t sit too comfortably with KT herself, but the natural cool aura of a person completely at home with themselves and their sound. Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon is in itself a gorgeous album, and translates acoustically to the stage in the same goosebump-inducing manner, with even more feel. You could you even say that you “Feel it All”. Sorry, had to.

“Made of Glass”, a song for which there is a brand new video, was a particular stand out from the new album, before KT treated us to a few oldies, “White Bird” and “Other Side of the World” taking us back a few years and a couple albums. An unexpected performance was that of “Lost” from Tunstall’s 2010 album Tiger Suit, slimmed down from its experimental electronic state to a beautifully elegant and sincere piano ballad. From such beautiful lulling sounds, KT’s jump to faster, upbeat performances (with additional Freddie Mercury style crowd participation) made for a night full of surprises that even managed to get a small group of friends around the age 65 on their feet and dancing. KT, we salute you.

The show stealer, i.e KT’s trusty, trusty loop pedal, was used to maximum effect in an incredible cover performance of “Default” by the band Atoms for Peace, which are thankfully now on our musical radar, and also in the final song of the show, “Chimes”. This last performance, in echo of Russ’ thoughts above, had the crowd remain standing in awe; the acoustics of the Symphony Hall bringing to life the many layers of the gorgeous melodic harmonies. The beauty of this final song seemed to sum up the night as a whole, the sound bouncing off the walls and surrounding each individual in what I can only think to describe as a warm blanket of melody, warmth and honesty. As KT waved to the crowd, she left the track running as she walked off stage, the crowd left to enjoy the warmth, the melody, and the lyrics:

“Lifting off the lid of all I know, lifting off the lid. Finding out about a love, i’ll grow into something big.”

 Photo credit to Simon J. Newbury Photography

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