live: Everything But The Girl Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Friday 29 March 1996
With a shy wave, he was gone. Tracey Thorn may not have McAlmont's star quality, but her voice is a rare and beautiful thing - rich, deep and cool, with a sadness pervading every lyric.
For more than a decade, Everything But The Girl stumbled after a setting for that voice. They were cappuccino kids in the much-hyped British jazz revival of the mid-Eighties, then big-band swingers, then MOR crooners. Now, under the influence of friends and collaborators in Massive Attack, they have found their answer.
The basic approach remains the same - melancholy torch songs, with the velvet voice hovering over slow-changing chord sequences. But the setting has moved from bossa nova to drum `n' bass, with the adoption of trip- hop production and the skittish urban rhythms of jungle - not the nervous aggression of hardcore jungle, of course, but a toned-down version used as grit in the oyster of their sad pop songs.
Live, they showed how close jungle can come to jazz. Drummer Martin Ditcham used cymbals and percussion to augment computer-driven breakbeats and samples, while the virtuoso session player Danny Thompson was dressed in black behind a double bass. Even when those two worked up a storm, as they did on a version of Massive's "Protection", Thorn was its calm epicentre. She did not so much dance as sway awkwardly. Her partner down the years, Ben Watt, was at the piano and semi-acoustic guitar.
"I'd like to say how much we're enjoying being successful at the moment," he said, thanking the half of the audience that had followed the band for years. The faithful were not au fait with the stop-start conventions of the new music - they applauded when the drums briefly dropped out half- way through "Walking Wounded" (title song of their new album for Virgin). Watt offered them solace with three too many of his mawkish solo songs and other oldies, of which only "I Always Was Your Girl" really suited the spacious new sound.
Ultimately, Watt and Thorn were most at ease in the present. They closed with a thumping version of "Missing" - the sound of a band that has discovered an unexpectedly bright future.
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