Laura Veirs, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London


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The Independent Culture

Laura Veirs used to be in a punk band, she tells us. It would be fair to say she's mellowed since those days, with eight albums of country-tinged folk under her acoustic guitar strap.

Inspired by the birth of her own son, her latest, Tumble Bee, is a collection of songs for children from the American traditional back-catalogue. Surprisingly few of these playground rhymes, folk standards and gentle lullabies get an airing tonight – but maybe that's because she's playing them in concerts just for kids during this tour. Hence that punk band revelation; apparently, when they get out the bubble machine, the little ones go mental: “it's just like in a mosh pit, but tiny.”

There's no moshing on the Southbank tonight; if anything, Veirs and her fellow musicians – electric guitarist Tim Young and violinist Alex Guy – are too gentle for the venue, almost swallowed up. Although Veirs' deadpan funny between-song chatter does nicely warm the audience; so much so that, when they get us to clap along on 'Little Lap Dog Lullaby', they quip they can't get us to stop...

It's followed by another Tumble Bee song, 'The Fox'. Veirs explains she had these tunes sung to her by hippie parents, before explaining, gleefully, that this one is “about a fox taking a goose home and chopping it up with a knife.” Very love'n'peace.

Elsewhere, most material comes from her last 'adult' record, July Flame, beginning with the shimmeringly lovely 'When You Give Your Heart'. Other highlights are a toe-tapping, driving version of 'Wide-Eyed, Legless', during which Young chews and gurns and grins his way endearingly through the slide guitar parts; he'll later provide a top solo on 'Jailhouse Fire', too. The audience is asked to clap the upbeat – which we struggle with, frankly – but it's all rather jolly and, well, upbeat.

While there are plenty more mournful, melancholic strains too, they lack tingle tonight, and it's the beaming moments that stick. Veirs is skilled at blending both, however, as encapsulated on 'Life is Good Blues' – that tension captured in the very title. Over deceptively simple finger-picking she sings, both in bluesy yearning harmonies and with a honeyed warmth, lyrics that find magic in the everyday: “life is good when you dance all night/And the world transmits electric power”. Veirs may not prompt us to dance the night away, but we still receive her transmissions, sweet and clear.