Tina Dico, Union Chapel, London
Tuesday 16 December 2008
Tina Dico likes to read Dostoevski in her local Ladbroke Grove launderette, part of her long-term escape from being one of her native Denmark's most fêted stars. She moved to London, "the city of distance", in 2001, and apart from the Danish expats scattered through this church tonight, or those who know her from spells with Zero 7, she has found the lonely anonymity she craves.
Flanked by long-term collaborator Dennis Ahlgren, with his black glitter guitar, and high-voiced Icelander Helgi Jonsson, Dico's willowy blonde good looks are neutralised by a studious demeanour. The 30-year-old has been capable of big pop moments on her previous four albums. But she chose her dad's Dylan and Cohen records over Duran Duran as a child. Her new triple-EP release "A Beginning a Detour an Opening" is a spare tribute to such bedsit staples of romantic dissection.
She leans in conversationally for the pay-off of "He Doesn't Know", one of several songs gnarled in love's selfish, absurd, helpless turns. As she admits in "An Open Ending", "There's no answer as big as the question", and she is better at doubt than sometimes clichéd conclusions. Though she is immune to the English obsession with double entendres as she introduces "Stains", she can be pitilessly visceral, too, about a one-night stand. "Friend in a Bar", meanwhile, is a tough story of a girl harrowed by romantic obsession. Playing like late-night country reset to a Copenhagen wine bar, the music cuts out as dramatically as Dico's character, who begs: "Please don't let me catch the cruel disease she has!"
Dico's trio do justice to odd counter-melodies, dragging interestingly against her voice's thrust. Several songs have jazzy codas - such as "Glow"'s studied, stilted synths, matching its clumsy but unclichéd metaphor for traumatic emotional baggage as "radioactive". You forgive that for its simpler, truer line: "You were given nothing all your life and it's a lot to carry". The adolescent commitment to keep reading Dostoevski and anonymously studying people ends in lyrics like that. It also leaves Dico a reserved performer. But the second of two sets sees her loosen a little, becoming the tough, confident girl itching to step into the urban night in "Keep Driving".
She finishes alone and acoustic, like her childhood heroes. But earlier, "Some Other Day" vividly imagines hearing "a bomb nearby tonight". It is about avoiding commitment in a world demanding it; a song where Dico's earnestness is earned.
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