The Jazz Cafe, Camden – 26.09.18
If you’ve been lucky enough to have seen KT Tunstall live more than once, you’d probably agree that they were very different experiences. Perhaps you caught her recently opening for Simple Minds and The Proclaimers during their summer Grandslam tour, where she kicked off the event with a concise hit-after-hit set. Or maybe you saw her tour last year where she performed a one-woman show, and with a little help from her loop pedal successfully filled the venue with sound just as a full band would. You might even have seen her a few months before that when she did have a band with her, and was celebrating the release of KIN – showcasing the optimism that shone through that collection.
Two years after the release of KIN, KT is back with the second release of the planned trilogy, WAX, and the live experience is once again a very different show. Of course, her natural banter is there, chatting to what is tonight an intimate crowd (The Jazz Cafe’s capacity is 400) as if she was delivering an anecdote to a group of mates in the pub. But while the hits are present, the harder-edged influence of WAX coats them, delivered from an all-female band who look like visual representations of the elements that make up KT Tunstall as a musician: The rocker (Charlotte Hatherley on guitar), the laid-back performer (Cheryl Pinero AKA Emo/Moody Spice on bass), the experimental side (Hinako Omori on keys), and the beat that delivers everytime (Cat Myers on drums).
New tracks appear early and dominate the set (naturally – this is an album launch series of shows after all), with Human Being quickly switching from electronic, strobe-accompanied effects to some hard edged guitar. It’s equal parts her most digital sounding track since Tiger Suit and one of her most grittiest moments. Backlash and Vinegar – as you might guess from the title – is even rockier, and featuring some of her more playful lyrics (perhaps influenced by Patti Smith’s guitar which KT plays live, a fact and name she dropped proudly). By the time Dark Side Of Me is performed, it’s pretty apparent that WAX may well be the antithesis of the top-down, long highway singalongs within KIN.
Woven in between the new tracks are KT’s greatest hits (6 albums in she’s yet to release hers, but you just know these would appear), with Otherside Of The World given a more anthemic, guitar driven kick, and closer Suddenly I See sounding a million miles from the poppy montage moment it soundtracks in The Devil Wears Prada.
Despite the fact that huge hints are given for what this chapter of KT’s story will sound like, she’s still an artist who likes to surprise. For The Mountain, she brings out violinist Sophie Solomon (“she looks like the love child of Princess Diana and Keith Richards”) on a track that blends middle-Eastern percussion and strings with KT’s knack for a finely crafted, bite-sized track, and during a rare, acoustic moment she asks the audience what they’d like to hear, before delving into a sparse rendition of Invisible Empire, acting as a well-needed breather during an evening of raucousness.
“It’s a really nice feeling to have my mojo back,” KT announces after fan favourite The Healer, previously unreleased on a studio LP but reworked for WAX. To those of us who have seen her before, it’s tricky to pinpoint a time when she didn’t have it with her.