Laura Veirs, Bush Hall, London

Between a rock and a hard place
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The Independent Culture

Sporting a black cap above her straggly hair and glasses, Veirs arrived armed with a three-piece band - comprising Steve Moore (piano/organ), Tucker Martine (percussionist) and Karl Blau. "We will try to rock you," Veirs studiously informed us, and this, again, was a mistake. Although Veirs' background is in geology (which she studied in Minnesota), her schtick isn't really rock. The widespread and gushing critical praise the singer/ songwriter received last year centred around her stark and hypnotic release Carbon Glacier, which she wrote alone during a cold, dark Seattle winter.

Carbon Glacier managed to be both ethereal and earthy, and was replete with nature imagery, spilling out clouds, flowers, stars, rocks, ice, snow, waves. Such as on "Lonely Angel Dust", which she played tonight - "the rose is not afraid to blossom/ though it knows its petals must fall/ and with its petals fall seeds into soil/ why toil to contain it at all".

The album was a mish-mash of avant-folk poetic warblings, which were sometimes, frankly, redolent of Phoebe's superbly silly "Smelly Cat" in Friends. Although Veirs sometimes veers into politics, it's not very often. She may sound a little like Suzanne Vega, but her concerns are less penetrating, less urban. Her sound is more romantic and otherworldly, more reminiscent of Jane Siberry.

Veirs' new album, Year of Meteors, which she mined thoroughly tonight, is less downbeat and more, well, fun. The same preoccupations are there - stars, water, caves, snow and so on - but the tunes are decidedly catchier. The album possesses a more expansive sound than its predecessor does and there are some finely poised arrangements. This is particularly manifest on "Cool Water", which Veirs kicked off with tonight. And to emphasise her change in a rockier direction Veirs bounced up and down on the spot and swayed her guitar mechanically from side to side.

But Veirs' songs do not lend themselves to be danced to, or for much movement. There are no anthems you can grind or mosh to. This is basically music that wafts over you while you're firmly planted in a seat. Some of the audience (which included a broad age range) sway and the odd fan whoops. It was a very tasteful affair, and the amiable band only increased the lack of edge and excitement. At one point Veirs asked us all where they could get good Indian food late, because the band hadn't eaten all day. Sweet, but not rock'n'roll.

However, after a shaky first half, the gig did improve. There was even a heady period. Veirs played the wonderful "Fire Snakes" (her standout song on the new album, with a gorgeous use of strings reminiscent of the best of The Magnetic Fields), the catchy new single "Galaxies" and the slightly batty "Spelunking" back to back. The fact that she played "Spelunking" in the dark, save for her band brandishing torches, is worthy of one star-rating alone. Ultimately, though, Veirs lacked presence. Her childlike vocal delivery lacked power, and was stronger on the sparer tracks, such as on the lovely "Magnetized" and "Wind Is Blowing Stars". Veirs' new record is better than this performance and this venue.