Alice Phoebe Lou @ Rough Trade East 16/05/16

by AdamTait
AdamTait
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on 22 May 2016 in Live
Rating 9/10

Some performers impress with startling displays of bombast. Towering introductions and vocal trickery and the irresistible pull of rhythmic manipulation.

Others - like Alice Phoebe Lou - leave you unavoidably awe-inspired without you ever really noticing it was happening. The cumulative affect of their remarkable touches of quality swirl gently around you - unassumingly, welcomingly - until you find yourself walking away quietly trying to unwrap exactly what it was about them that's imprinted to lastingly upon you.

There’s the inherent allure of her compositions. It’s difficult not to get wrapped up in the demure way she ties guitar simplicity with the subtle introduction of a horn line, or piano flourish. In the stripped back setting of Rough Trade East, we’re without the accompaniment of a band, though.

With just a guitar to guide her vocals, her music takes on a bluesier edge. Her voices rises to all-embracing highs and retreats to fragile lows wonderfully. Phoebe Lou’s voice is charmingly, ethereal, crafting a warm resonance for her narratives that simultaneously holds the audience like a magnet and gives them space to drift among the music.

Perhaps seeing the music so undressed like this is initially what brings the songwriting to the fore in such gripping fashion.

Over the course of the set Phoebe Lou offers up the product of an ongoing effort to write a song about feminism and womanhood, provisionally titled ‘My Outside’, examines the impact of society on the individual and their understanding of themselves, considers life in the West Bank and remarks on animal conservation with an endearing touch of humour on ‘The Tiger And The Dolphin’.

It’s not simply that she takes on such big topics that impresses, but that she’s evidently wrestled with each of these subjects with sincerity and authenticity. That these are the questions of our time is plain to see. But to find a songwriter honestly and reverentially considering them, not as emotional currency to demonstrate awareness but as a heartfelt expression of her self-awareness in the world, is more than refreshing.

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