Katie Melua, Hammersmith Apollo, London


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The Independent Culture

It is hard to watch Katie Melua without lamenting the absence of smoking within venues. Her soft lustrous vocals hark back to days of the melancholic lounge singer, emoting to an absorbed audience through an opaque smoky veil.

There is no veil, but the resplendent red curtain of the Hammersmith Apollo, and when she appears from behind it, there seems to be something profoundly different about Katie Melua.

Gone are the dark shades and dowdy trousers of her earlier career. Instead, she enters with a flowing orange cutaway dress, the brightness of which colours the tone of the performance.

Starting with lone guitar and voice on “Piece by Piece”, Melua is next joined by a string quartet for “If You Were a Sailboat”. The strings bring an ethereal accompaniment to her silky celebration of requited love.

For the contrasting themes in “I’d Love to Kill You” the singer explains that before she was recently married, she wrote these “very sad love songs”. The pain of heartbreak can produce an artist’s magnum opus, yet being in love has clearly given Katie Melua renewed radiance and vigour on stage.

As Melua introduces breakthrough track, “Closest Thing to Crazy”, she acknowledges that it has been 10 years since meeting the other significant man in her life, Mike Batt. Her long-term collaborator, Batt found a conduit and a muse in Melua. The song itself encapsulates everything about their conjoined musical sensibilities and deserves the love garnered from fans.

After it ends to rapture, the curtain lifts to reveal the band, much as Batt lifted a curtain on her career and marriage has on her confidence to perform. Something overtly noticeable is Melua’s new use of the stage. “Mary Pickford” and “ The Flood” allow her to move freely to the music.

Her wonderful hair, which has a stage presence of its own, is thrust about with abandon. She is clearly having fun. During the gent le tones of “ Secret Symphony”, smoke finally engulfs the vocalist, or more accurately swirling dry ice.

Alas, it is more Phantom of the Opera than Blossom Dearie, but it stresses Melua’s new found eye for the theatrical. After fan favourite “Nine Million Bicycles”, the curtain falls on the band and we’re left with just Katie and a guitar again. We have come full circle and so has Melua’s career because now she can explore the happier side of love again.