Live Review: Emíliana Torrini at The Waterfront Studio
The Waterfront Hall is full to bursting on the 10th of March – and before I can seriously reconsider my prediction of the size and age of Emíliana’s Irish fan base – since most of the crowd seem to be made up of overexcited primary school girls and frazzled-looking mothers – a voice on the tanoy announces that the third part of ‘The Lord of The Dance’ is commencing, and that the crowd should make their way back to the auditorium.
Thankfully, most of the crowd floods back into the doors of the main auditorium, revealing Emíliana’s slightly smaller – and older – audience, which is mainly made up of arty students (wearing sparkly berets and coloured tights) and older, more experienced, gig-goers (wearing business suits and party dresses). After a short wait, the audience trickles into the studio.
The Waterfront Studio is a more traditional venue than the large, modern main auditorium – tonight it is adorned with softly glowing fairy-lights and kitsch lampshades, giving off the air of walking, unannounced, into someone’s living room. It’s cozy and quaint, and suits Emíliana’s music down to the ground.
Opening for Emíliana tonight are dreamy folk-pop group The Island Line – tonight sees the traditional line-up downsized, with only ethereal singer Hazel Sainsbury, and burly, bearded guitarist Ian on stage tonight. Armed with an acoustic guitar and a dinky organ they play sweet, sugary indie-folk songs about dreaming and cups of tea, including some wonderful Will Oldham covers. Despite Hazel’s wispy appearance, her voice is surprisingly powerful, and their set is a welcomed beginning to the evening.
Emíliana takes to the stage to the moody guitar-chords of ‘Fireheads’ and some nifty lighting work, blushing her face an ominous red- her voice is as stunning as it is on record; both fragile and achingly powerful, it rings glacially clear through the studio, captivating everyone.
“That’s our Jon Bon Jovi number” she grins sweetly, in a heavily-accented chirrup.
Emíliana, wearing a floral tea-dress and a huge smile, is an arresting presence on stage. She entertains the crowd with charming between-song banter, ranging on anecdotes on how the songs were written (frequently starting ‘so I was drinking red wine one evening…’), musings on love (‘…You just gotta hope they don’t punch you in the face!’) and more philosophical thoughts on the grieving process.
Emíliana’s band – a four-piece, made up of two grinning guitar players, an impossibly-happy drummer, Maggí, and a keyboardist who doubled as a technological wizard, summoning the sound of creaking old ships and whispering accordions during ‘Lifesaver’ – are undeniably slick, and complimented Emíliana’s performance perfectly – although Emíliana’s voice is powerful, it contains a fragility which means it could easily be drowned by unskilled playing. Their musicianship is incredibly adept – the drummer at one point stroking his cymbals with a violin bow – and served as the perfect musical backdrop to Emíliana’s stunning voice.
Emíliana presents a well-rounded set, taking material mostly from ‘Fisherman’s Woman’ and ‘Me & Armini’ – unfortunate absences were 90’s breakthrough hit ‘To Be Free’ and laid-back ‘Unemployed In The Summertime’ – the highlights were a more up-tempo version of ‘Heartstopper’ – transforming the track from acoustic number to a rollicking, danceable, indie-pop tune – the seminal ‘Jungle drum’ (which reduced many of the audience members to the ultimate display of geekiness – seated dancing), the kittenish, bouncing ‘Big Jumps’ (which Emíliana complimented with some endearingly geeky dancing of her own) and the gorgeously mournful ‘Fisherman’s woman’. However, the best track of the evening came from ‘Me & Armini’ in the form of ‘Beggar’s Prayer’ – Emíliana whispering “I find myself asking who’d do this to love?/ And the white-shouldered mountains they pointed above” before breaking into enveloping, soaring, gospel-like harmonizing is not an image I will forget soon.
Overall, this was a truly wonderful evening – Emíliana’s impish personality shone through in her songs, and her unique brand of self-deprecating wit lifted this concert from an evening of skilled musicianship to an evening with an endearing personality. As the audience filed out, the warmth felt towards Emíliana was almost tangible, and every face wore a beaming smile.