Laura Mvula at The Metro Bluesfest 2017 – Review
Gig: Laura Mvula Live at The Metro Theatre (Bluesfest Sideshow)
Support from Marcus Whale
Photos by: Monika Smith Photoraphy
What a line up Sydney audiences have been treated to with Bluesfest coming to town this past Easter long weekend! I was gearing up the week before on Take One having a jam to song after song with our ‘Bluesfest Special’ but a standout from this years sideshows that deserves a major mention. This is of course the one and only Laura Mvula who took to The Metro Theatre for her debut Sydney performance. Before I get to her I must give a quick and deserving mention to her support for the night, Marcus Whale.
Whale’s Doctor Krieger-esk all white performance attire was the perfect introduction newcomers to his work, like myself, needed to become accustomed with his signature electronic stylings. Each track felt like it had been meticulously produced, featuring some heavily polyrhythmic techniques keeping himself and his accompanist on their toes at all times. Looking into the artists back catalogue, I discovered this perfectionist approach is very natural for the artist, considering the complexities of the lyricism on his latest concept album ‘Inland Sea’ where he goes into further detail about the story behind the album on his website (insert link). What was so striking was the melding of such dense and industrial soundscapes against Whale’s soulful vocals. The perfect example of this was the album’s single ‘My Captain’, bringing with tension, Whale’s drawn out and minimalist melodic phrasing barely brakes through the monstrous, frantic, and densely layered percussion behind it. This biggest juxtaposition of all was after such a swelling and powerful performance, Whale’s person quickly retreated into shy, humble and bashful, kindly thanking the audience for coming out and to get excited for ‘Laura’s’ upcoming headline.
Now to the headline for the night: Laura Mvula
If I could sum up the show in two words, they would be beautiful and joyous.
The intermission suddenly fell to a hush as her slick six-piece, including sister Dionne Douglas on guitar, and brother James Douglas on cello, kicked into gear but to some confusion. The lively instrumental introduction to her hit single ‘Overcome’ (ft. Nile Rodgers) developed to included Mvula’s unmistakable vocals, but with no artist in sight. Slowly but surely the goddess powerfully graced her band, mic and key-tar (an instrument she lovingly calls her ‘ironing board’) at the ready. The track’s signature groove is made for the perfect introduction and signal to the audience that this was a performance that includes them too.
From uptempo to hauntingly stilling and etherial, Mvula never shied away from stripping away her band and creating an intimate moment or few. A stand out was surely ‘Father Father’, a performance her Sydney audience was treated to twice after some technical difficulties. The composition’s gospel harmonies allowed her solo keyboard and vocal performance to swell and envelop the room as she told the story of a testing relationship between the protagonist and their male family members. Inviting the band back on stage, Mvula continued to showcase her back catalogue, debut ‘Sing to the Moon’ and follow up ‘The Dreaming Room’.
Reminding her fans of exactly why they love her, she also took her time in the spotlight to catch up her Sydney audience on her current career trajectory. This news was both good and bad. She openly discussed the abrupt (in our opinion wrong) decision made by her former label to drop her. This comment quickly turned to smiles and excitement as she reassured the room that she was working on new music WITHOUT interference from label exec’s, an experience she was cherishing. Whilst touring and writing, the artist also mentioned she’s also developing the score for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. We don’t know how she does it all! These announcements hopefully mean that Mvula will be able to brave the ‘far’ journey back to our shores to follow up her debut Sydney appearance.