The audience was pulled out of its drinking and chatting revelry at the Jazz Café when "101", the title track of Keren Ann's latest album was pumped loudly from the PA system.
The song, which counts down 101 things – "101 floors... 100 days to abundance... 99 per cent..." – was a characteristically experimental opening from a performer who styles herself as a neo-beatnik.
With a boyish crop and heavily kohled eyes Keren arrived and launched straight into "Suga Mama", a rather camp track, also from the new album, which sounds like a song from Return to the Forbidden Planet. Playing electric guitar and surrounded by her male band mates, Keren, 37, cut a striking figure in black.
The Dutch-Israeli's music is a delicious feast of varying styles – electro, pop, rock, folk, jazz – and her velveteen vocals are stunning.
She switches from breathy blues to the melodramatic "Blood on My Hands", before relinquishing electric for acoustic, blowing into a mouth organ with attitude and doing a passable impression of June Carter. It is this versatility which, while commendable, has hampered Keren's mainstream appeal, so unexpected is the sound she produces at every turn. Once compared to Katie Melua and Norah Jones, the new album bulldozes such similarities.
With her aggressive (and sometimes cringe-worthily rhyming) lyrics and understated coolness, Keren is like no other artist currently around. The multi-linguist sings as easily in French as English, dances as effortlessly as she plays guitar and, with her porcelain features, appears otherworldly.
She sang a cappella to screams of applause before shaking off her melodic softness and adopting the Goldfrapp-influenced persona required for "My Name Is Trouble" and "You Were On Fire" – both of which should be on your playlist for this year.Reuse content