Pop Live: Captivated by the queen of Sheeba

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The Independent Culture
JANE SIBERRY

QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL LONDON

EVEN BEFORE the lights go down, you can tell something about Jane Siberry by her audience. These people are weird, artsy, right-on, left field (what seem from the back to be a couple of Claudia Schiffers with waist-length blonde tresses turn out to have pinstripes and beards). It's intellectual bohemia, man, and Woody Allen should be filming.

On the other hand, it might just be that these are Internet nerds, since Siberry has quit her major label to start her own, Sheeba, and her latest music is available only via sibatsheeba.ca. Whatever, this audience is too damn quiet. We know because, toward the end of a heart-rending, sexy, witty show, with Siberry onstage alone throughout, she murmurs, "You're very ... quiet."

It's true: she's opened her heart, she's confided the thoughts inside her rainbow-strewn head, she's given us music that could bring you to tears, and we've sat here like - well, English people.

"Does anyone have any questions?" she enquires softly "Yeah," roars a bloke down front. "Can I take you to dinner?" She beams. "Yes. Where shall we go?" And what does he bellow back? "We'll sort it out with management." You can feel Siberry's disappointment. Management? Having financed early albums by waitressing while studying microbiology in her native Ontario, Siberry hit a period of genius in 1987 when, signed to Warners, her inventiveness became focused into gorgeous piano-lead, deeply melodic numbers whose sudden changes of mood and spoken intervals kept you rivetted while the unexpected emotion socked you in the guts.

Not surprisingly Wim Wenders recruited her to add musical depth to Faraway, So Close, and Brian Eno offered to produce tracks for When I Was A Boy, her biggest commercial outing. Now that she's loosened her company bindings, however, she's free to noodle off into jazz and funk, getting down and dirty with a smile on her face. Tonight, though, it's the Pilgrim tour, where the theme, loosely, is finding yourself, which may mean "embarking on a new path" (could be millennial).

If this seems foggy, don't worry, you can interpret the songs as part of the story or just go with the flow. That's easy to do.

Siberry is mesmerising as, blonde hair caught up carelessly, infernal cheekbones sharper than ever and clad in a trenchcoat, she moves between piano, guitar and organ like an angelic itinerant.

She gives us The Vigil, a tender piece written for her dying father, then When Last I Was A Fisherman, which grooves against two plaintive notes executed by a volunteer from the audience who can't stop grinning. ("Sit up. And ... keep your face straight, please," she admonishes).

There's a monologue on workaholism ("No, cries your heart/But you're keeping the dark forces at bay"), there's a drum `n' bass take on Ole Man River, there's the breezy Hockey, a story of winter days on the frozen lakes of her childhood. She takes a break into loopiness by sitting a flop-eared toy rabbit on her piano ("he's a very good listener") and asking us what's the best thing to clean a keyboard ("Mr Sheen?"), but saves herself with The Empty City, a tale of crumbled civilisation, then an epic on Life which teaches that only three key words can save the conscientious: "Go fuck yourself."

Two unutterably lovely ballads, Barkis Is Willin' and Calling All Angels, end the night. Three words: brave, clever, visionary.

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