|Venue:||Glasgow Mitchell Library|
|Label:||Oak Ten Records|
Just under a year ago, I travelled down to London to catch the elusive Jeff Mangum at Union Chapel. The show was significant as Mangum had been hiding for a number of years and hearing the songs of Neutral Milk Hotel in a live setting was something I'd not held much hope for. The venue he'd played in provided an incredible setting for his voice: a huge old church where we all sat in pews awaiting the arrival of this shy figure, and when he played the songs filled the room in a way that made the hairs stand up on your neck.
Fast forward to tonight and I'm awaiting the arrival of a chap who has an equally shy reputation in an equally unique setting. This time it's a small room in Glasgow's Mitchell Library, a huge Edwardian structure where the audience makes its way up a huge staircase into this small corner of the building with a small stage set up and a few rows of seats sitting neatly in front of it. Like Mangum, despite his considerably shorter time in the public consciousness, there is a mythology already surrounding Keaton Henson. Tonight marks one of the first proper live performances he's undertaken: previously he had been crippled by stage fright, playing deeply personal songs that he had originally never intended anyone to hear. I'd come to terms with the fact I probably would never see him play but here we are and I can still barely believe he’ll soon be sat right in front of me.
The opener tonight is Jo Mango and she's lovely in every sense of the word. The songs she plays are gentle acoustic ballads occasionally accompanied by a more bizarre instrument such as a thumb piano which compliments her voice beautifully. In between songs she's funny, joking that the set up tonight feels like we're about to sit an exam, but it's her music that does the real talking. Single ‘The Black Sun’ is the high point of her performance and at times her voice carries around the room like she's more than one person.
Keaton, on the other hand, is unmistakably one man. His voice never sounds far from the closed doors he recorded his first album behind and he draws you in completely. While I had expected him to talk very little between songs, much like I had with Jeff Mangum, he's genuinely warm and happy to converse with the audience, but when he plays the room is suddenly dead quiet. For brief moments you feel as if he's playing just to you, until you hear the sound of someone moving behind you. The space we're in is lined with cabinets filled with books that would probably disintegrate if you touched the pages and at times, the man on stage doesn't look like he'd fare any better. In particular, a performance of 'Sarah Minor' is somehow, impossibly, more delicate than on record and 'Sweetheart, What have you Done to Us?', backed up by some gorgeous cello playing is positively heartbreaking.
The set leans heavily on upcoming songs from his new album (Birthdays, due later this month), suggesting that more of these songs were written with an audience in mind and it's actually these songs that really grab me; hearing the music and lyrics for the first time reminds me of my first experience of the older songs, and it's getting to hear Keaton play them for one of the first times right in front of me that makes this night truly special. He departs with the song 'You' from Birthdays, which is, he says, about the people sitting in front of him tonight. Although the performance has been brief, it's this song that really caps off the evening perfectly. It's taken quite a while for Keaton to finally get here and seeing him perform was brilliant in itself, but the way the show was presented tonight, in this unique venue, elevated the performance to something much more than just one of an artist's first handful of gigs.
Posted: Sun 10 February 2013