Describing a performance by Marissa Nadler as “intimate” is something of a tautology. By its very nature, the music we were treated to at the Church on York in Highland Park on Friday night was entirely intimate, all delicate guitar playing backed occasionally by cello and violin and completely absent of percussion. It is music that requires attention and whose quality demands it. As such, a converted church in which the audience watched from the assembled pews felt like the ideal venue for Nadler.
As a self-confessed fan of black metal, there was also something fitting about the minimal lighting setup Nadler chose. The spotlights remained almost vertically above her for the whole show, catching her dark hair and white dress at unusual angles and causing her to resemble an album cover from the aforementioned genre at times. Her vocals only added to the effect, a quivering and hugely enticing voice delivering songs mainly drawn from her most recent album, the excellent July.
It is hard to equate this seductive and slightly sinister performance with the shy and nervous woman who spoke between songs. Nadler was almost inaudible when speaking to the crowd, which only made her transformation into folk siren more startling. During the likes of “Was It A Dream?,” she was backed by harmonized vocals from her two fellow performers, although a slightly off sound mix meant that those harmonies did not quite resonate in the way they do on record.
Fortunately, Nadler held her own anyway. She has been dealing in this stripped-down sound for a while, but the set benefited from being drawn almost entirely from her new album. That particularly strong collection was well represented and immaculately brought to life with minimum fuss. “Dead City Emily” was a highlight, sounding even stormier than on record as swathes of electro-acoustic strings bounced off the walls in between the song’s quieter moments.
For the briefest of encores, she returned alone to an appreciative audience that had lapped up the preceding 45 minutes or so. By that point the combination of a series of heart-stopping songs and a very efficient show had done the job, and there was a sense watching it that while a growing awareness of Marissa Nadler amongst the general population could only be a good thing, the songs might lose some of their power when transitioned to bigger venues with potentially more elaborate bands. Even so, I do hope Nadler finds more of an audience. It’s difficult to imagine any fan of singer-songwriter material like this not discovering something in this music to draw them in, and it would help push the case for July as one of 2014’s most impressive albums, which it surely still will be by the time we start making those end-of-year lists.
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