Paloma Faith & the Guy Barker Orchestra, Barbican, London
Thursday 16 December 2010
In the Guy Barker Orchestra, Paloma Faith has clearly met her perfect match: a bunch of talented musicians with as deep and sincere a love of big-band jazz and blues as she has, led by a gifted musical director whose arrangements subtly and ingeniously update the standard period tropes. There's an obvious rapport between singer and musicians, who doubtless had fun planning tonight's show, Down at the End of Lonely Street, a quote from "Heartbreak Hotel" signifying the melancholy, lovelorn tenor of the torch-song material.
Guy Barker's abilities as arranger are most clearly demonstrated on "Overture" and "Underdogs", the instrumentals that open the show's two halves in vividly cinematic manner, their noir-ish urbanity recalling the likes of Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann. As the "Overture" draws to a close, Paloma Faith scuttles nimbly through the audience in platform stilettos, red turban, figure-hugging black dress and elbow-length gloves. Climbing onstage, she flings herself down on a chaise longue in front of the string section, distraught behind a coffee-table bearing antique phone and typewriter. Her man, she sobs, has gone and left her, the supposed seed for tonight's wallow in heartache, which begins with a classy "Lover Man" and a "Son of a Preacher Man" whose jazzy intro gives way to a brash and fulsome big-band funk.
The rest of the set comprises impressive arrangements of material both obvious (Etta James's "At Last" and Julie London's "Cry Me a River") and unusual, not least a hepped-up take on Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love" and a dazzling version of Tom Waits's "Temptation", which shifts from a tricky pizzicato intro to sensuous undulations, mined by Faith for every available ounce of sultry appeal.
Things start to drag during the second half, however. Paloma first appears up on the balcony, singing her hit "New York" in a flounce of ostrich feathers, before coming downstairs for a delicious "Black Coffee", flavoured with Gershwin-esque reeds. But, thereafter, the show loses its shine, not least the between-songs schtick, which has Faith reading from bits of paper, struggling to find different ways of expressing the same lonesome sentiments.
There is a potentially great show in here, but I'd recommend losing half-a-dozen songs and gaining a more sculpted narrative.
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