October 31, 2005
Roisin Murphy live at the Trabendo, Paris
Wow. You’ll have to excuse me, I’m writing while still in post-concert euphoria.
Tonight I saw Roisin Murphy perform live at the Trabendo, a little place in the Parc de la Villette, a 10 minute walk from my apartment. The concert was at 8:30, I arrived at 9 because nobody in that park has even heard of the Trabendo, let alone knows where it is. Luckily time is elastic in France, and the doors didn’t even open for another 10 minutes after my arrival.
I went to the concert alone. Nobody I know has heard of her and thus no one was willing to gamble the €25 ticket price on an unknown. It’s nice to go to concerts with people, but to have gone to this concert with someone unfamiliar with her music wouldn’t have made the experience any better. They probably would have just been like “Vic, you’re into some weird shit, man.” Going alone let me love every minute of the show without distraction.
After the jump: What the hell do you think? The show!
Inside the Trabendo, a DJ played electronic funk as the room filled with cigarette smoke from the audience. The smoke actually added to the show: the colored lights shone as if in a fog, giving the place more atmosphere. After a while, the lights for the performance came on and the DJ left his turntables to cross the stage and pick up a bass guitar, he was actually part of the band (and backup vocals, suprisingly). The rest of them came out a moment later: the horn section (a trumpet, trombone, flute [for one song] and saxophone), an acoustic/electric guitarist, drummer, and the laptop jockey, who worked his magic on a Mac and some other electronic equipment. The band started up “Ramalama,” the most out-there song on the album with a zombies-marching sort of beat. Then from behind the curtain came Roisin, herself. Like a giant black crow out of 19th century England, she came out in a black, pleated, V-neck sort of top, a black skirt to just below her knees, a black tophat usually associated with cigars and brandy, and a black cloak with big feathered shoulders. Together with her pale skin and fiery red hair, the image was striking. The opening was above all, intense. It was an intensity with a touch of insanity, as if we were looking into the mind of a sanitarium inmate. It was a great great way to open the show: she grabbed our attention and blew us away.
After Ramalama, the insanity elemented disappeared. She dropped the cloak and hat and the feeling became much more personal, yet still intense, as if the passage into her mind was turbulent and jarring, but once inside we got to see the real woman.
Roisin Murphy makes electronic music. What most people hear of electronic music is mindless dancefloor tunes that combine an 808 with a few synths and female vocals singing something about “let’s be together.” The music I heard performed tonight was much more. At the front of the stage were two microphones, which made me wonder whether there was a backup singer important enough to merit a place beside Roisin herself. It turned out that one microphone had the normal function of transmitting her voice to us via the speakers, but the other ran the signal through the laptop jockey’s electronics before it got to us. With the second microphone, her voice was recorded, manipulated, looped, and passed through filters. She fused herself into the electronic element of her music, as well as the alarm clock’s bell that was recorded, looped, and made into the beat of “Dear Diary,” and the sound of her stamping feet in “Prelude to Love in the Making” as we watched. Along with the electronics are the horn section, bass, and drums. Live instruments sound amazing at concerts on their own (The horn section really shone for “Night of the Dancing Flame” and “Sow Into You” [not a typo]), but in tandem with a rich, beautiful voice like Roisin’s and a maestro like the laptop jockey arranging it all, the experience was layered, the sound bursting at the seams, it made your ears try to hear individual instruments but then pull back and let it engulf you, like pulling the covers over your head and trying to see your individual fingers in the pitch black and then giving up and letting your mind conjure up what it likes.
The second part of the experience was, of course, Roisin herself. I mentioned her entrance, but after that first song she looked into the audience with her piercing gaze and you knew she was feeling every emotion in every song she sang right there in front of us. She made gestures at times, as if talking directly to those she referred to in the lyrics. I would compare the level of Roisin’s self-investment into her songs to that of Fiona Apple. Roisin is perhaps less of a wordsmith in the clever way that Fiona comes across, but she will look you in the eyes and bare her soul on that stage in a way that struck me. She puts herself out there for all to see. That, to me, is true courage.
One of her last songs was “Ruby Blue,” the album’s title track and the one that would be the hit single if mass media actually cared about music. On the album, Ruby Blue has a relaxed sort of swing with a *clapclap* pause for one beat *clap* rhythm. Tonight, The distorted guitar was even more prominent and the drummer was brought into the song that gave it a rockstar sound that was incredible. Roisin played the part, too, leaning down on the microphone stand and really getting into it. By then, she’d changed into a sequined skirt, put the cloak back on, and wore a headdress of black feathers on her head. She danced around with the headress over her eyes in a devil-may-care, fuck you, punk rock way that made me fall in love with her (don’t worry, I’ll get over it). That performance of Ruby Blue at the Trabendo tonight was the best song I have ever heard performed live at a concert. I haven’t been to a whole lot of concerts, but the ones I’ve been to have all had great performers, so give that claim as much credence as you like.
Roisin ended the show with “Leaving the City,” which was appropriate, but she hadn’t done “The Closing of the Doors” and I prayed that I wouldn’t be disappointed. Luckily, she came back out for an encore, asking us “do you wanna get off on it?!”, referring to the song she was about to sing, “Off on it.” I think most of the audience cheered more from the tone of her voice than understanding the English expression, but I personally wanted to get off on it, so I cheered pretty hard. Finally, the real last song was The Closing of the Doors, a simple but heartbreaking song of only a piano and her voice, supported by melancholy horns. She looked as if the pain was still fresh… I felt it too. She waved goodbye as she hummed the final notes of the song and walked back through the curtain. The show was over.
It was a truly fantastic show. I would see her live again in a heartbeat. Who else would enjoy her music? I think David would, his tastes in funk and his brother’s jungle techno would make the electronics accessible to him and I know he can appreciate a good horn section. Alex might, being a brass man as well, and because he heard “Axé Axé” by Daniela Mercury once and bought the album. Ruby Blue is Roisin’s first album since beginning her solo career. She was the singer for the now-defunct Moloko, and that’s how I was introduced to her. Moloko had a bit of a different sound than Roisin does now, but you can hear similarities between them. I’d rather not speak of genres and that sort of nonsense, but Roisin is noticeably influenced by Matthew Herbert, who you’ve never heard of either.
I’m spent, as far as this concert goes, I’ll sign off here.