At the end of a week that has already seen the devastating, still utterly disbelieving death of David Bowie, followed shortly thereafter by the loss of the actor Alan Rickman, it comes as something of a blessed relief to find ourselves once more back in the relative sanctuary of live music.
Refuge is provided by local promoter Please Please You and their first show of 2016, a triple bill of three quite musically diverse female artists, the first of whom to appear this evening is Alisia Casper. Based in Leeds, Casper takes pictures, draws, paints, writes and makes music. Her creativity is as prolific as it is extensive. Tonight, though, she concentrates purely on her music. Standing at the microphone with only her electric guitar for company, she cuts a solitary, almost vulnerable figure. And whilst her music does possess a similarly fragile essence, it is ingrained with a most powerful inner strength, a courage that is channelled through the remarkable purity and honesty of her voice.
“I am your singer for the next half an hour,” Lætitia Sadier modestly proclaims. On what now seems like an increasingly endless sabbatical for Stereolab, Sadier continues to forge a musical direction that moves away from the mothership. As with Alisia Casper before her, Sadier performs only with an electric guitar. Her Stratocaster weaves elliptical, hypnotic rhythms – a guitar sound that occasionally recalls the expansive structural freedom Joni Mitchell enjoyed on her 1976 album Hejira – over which she sings in both English and her native French. The combination is never anything less than compelling.
A regrettably short set is predominantly populated by songs from Lætitia Sadier’s third and most recent solo album Something Shines. Whilst Stereolab’s innate political heart still beats through her words, on ‘The Milk of Human Kindness’ and ‘Then I Will Love You Again’ from that record there does emerge a more soulful resonance within Sadier. Unlike the sentiments expressed in ‘The Milk of Human Kindness’ – about a woman who is completely cut adrift – she presents as an individual who is most firmly grounded.
Set against the introspection and relative darkness of Alisia Casper and Lætitia Sadier is the brighter, breezier sound of This Is The Kit. The long-standing musical project of Kate Stables, tonight she is joined by regular live collaborators Neil Smith on guitar, Rozi Plain playing one of the biggest bass guitars imaginable and drummer Jamie Whitby-Coles. Together they conjure up a febrile mix of folk, pop and what is, occasionally, the vaguely psychedelic. It all makes for a hugely entertaining and engaging performance.
Kate Stables is the undoubted star and lightning conductor of This Is The Kit. It is through her that the band’s energy flows. This is no more apparent than on ‘Spores Now Settling’ – where she straps on her banjo and assumes the loose mantle of an English Gillian Welch – and the more melancholic blues of the ensuing ‘Misunderstanding’, both songs having been taken from last year’s Bashed Out album. For all of the bright illumination that Stables clearly brings to the stage, the live sound of This Is The Kit would not be complete without Neil Smith. His guitar – moving effortlessly along a fretboard that somehow connects Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins with Revolver-era George Harrison – magnifies the lyrical beauty of these songs.
Contemporary culture has this week been dealt two hugely significant blows. Tonight manages to offset some of their overwhelming impact by shining a light out of the darkness.
Photo credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found here