Ren Harvieu, Bush Hall, London
Ren (short for Lauren) Harvieu is swaying her hips, and pouting to the sultry number "Through the Night" which has attracted comparisons to Dusty Springfield and Shirley Bassey for its replication of 60s soul.
You can tell the tone of the song just by watching Harvieu, who is doing sexy moves that she doesn't seem totally comfortable performing. In a crown of red flowers and a vintage white, textured dress, with a high neck and long sleeves, she looks bandaged-up, like a sort of sacrificial mummy.
Perhaps her appearance is a nod to her back injury, sustained last year, after which she had to drop plans to perform at Glastonbury and delay the release of her album, also called Through the Night. Instead she was shortlisted for BBC Sound of 2012 and the injury, and her subsequent recovery, provided a media-friendly tale of triumph over tragedy.
Tonight's performance is patchy. Her voice is by turns tender, then powerful, and physically she simpers, then commands, channelling 50s screen sirens with half-closed eyes and a demure pout. She (literally) doesn't always hit the right note though and her performance seems contrived. In "Walking in the Rain" she sounds muffled and drops out of key in places. The song itself harks back to 60s tunes like "Spanish Harlem" and there are moments of beauty in her rich, smooth vocals.
Harvieu's sure-to-be-popular tune "Open up your Arms" is the first on her album and she chooses it to close the gig. Co-written with Dave McCabe from The Zutons, it's a robust, aggressive chant, closer to modern pop than her other work, it's a catchy crowd-pleaser but her performance still seems stilted as she grins, waving her arms upward.
In "Summer Romance", a tune that sounds like the soundtrack to a romantic movie, with its simple yearning chorus of "please don't let me hear you say goodbye", Harvieu bends and clasps her hands over the mic, in a begging gesture. It's followed by a disappointing cover of Roy Orbison's "Crying" in which the band exit, leaving Harvieu to sing accompanied by just a keyboard backing track and the echo setting on her mic. It's misjudged selection for her voice — it's one of the most complicated songs to sing — and the falsetto proves too much for her. It's unsettling for all the wrong reasons and it's hard to tell if she realises she hasn't quite pulled it off, as she finishes by wiping an invisible tear from her face.
Trust in Me (cover)
Through the Night
Walking in the Rain
Forever in Blue
Open up your arms
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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