review and photos by Philip LaRose
Last Monday the 17th, I went to the Crocodile to see Emilíana Torrini. Back in the day I picked up her first (English) album Love in the Time of Science as an impromptu purchase, and I’ve been fond of her since and was curious to hear her live. Opening for Torrini was singer-songwriter Anya Marina.
Anya Marina opened the show with a solo semi-acoustic set: she played acoustic guitar and sang, backed by rhythm tracks playing off her iPod (which she introduced near the end of the set as her backing band, “Nano”). She had a very engaging manner, chatting with the audience a lot. For one song she wanted the audience to whistle along, but was having trouble whistling well enough to demonstrate the part, provoking some good-natured laughter; after saying “let’s just sing doo-doo-doo instead” and singing the part, she had a good chorus of whistlers in the audience. Later she asked, “Should we drink whiskey tonight? I’m having so much fun with you, I wanna take it to the next level.” Her humor and playfulness also showed in her lyrics. Musically, I thought the songs were mostly unremarkable but the rhythm tracks had a hip-hop feel that helped fill out her sound so she wasn’t just another girl-with-guitar.
Emilíana Torrini was backed by a four-piece band playing the usual assortment of guitars, bass, keyboards, and drums, but with some prominent parts for slide guitar and harmonium as well. Torrini’s fragile voice and initially shy manner belied her strong singing and confident stage presence. She gave funny little introductions for most of the songs, which she explained was because she wrote each song in a different key so the band had to retune each time. Early in the set, she focused on wistful folk-pop songs mostly from her 2005 release Fisherman’s Woman, prompting someone to call out, “Play some happy songs!” Torrini retorted, “Happy songs? No way! ... Oh shit, I say no way and the next one [“Big Jumps”] is a happy song.” That said, “Nothing Brings Me Down” from that album had a tension to it that grew into rock with some urgency. Interspersed were a few similarly folksy songs from her most recent album, Me and Armini. She seemed surprised by the enthusiastic reaction when she introduced “To Be Free,” a song from Love in the Time of Science, but I noted that she’d cannily placed songs from that album in the later half of her set, including two in the encore, “Easy” and “Unemployed in Summertime.” Introducing the latter song, she remarked, “When you do something old, it’s a little embarrassing, like reading old diaries,” but there was no reason to be embarrassed about this fine pop tune. Balanced against these older songs was a run of songs from Me and Armini with a stronger rock edge than the earlier songs. I particularly liked the main set closer “Gun,” which had a really cool driving bass line accented by her percussive breaths and finger-snaps. I enjoyed her fine performance and look forward to hearing more from her.