A somewhat frustrating concert last night by Nina Nastasia in the pleasantly distressed surroundings of the Fluc Wanne. I spoke to some people who hadn’t been there before and who told me they had been wandering around the entire Praterstern area for over an hour looking for the place. I like the fact that it doesn’t draw attention to itself, to the extent of not even having a sign with its name. And even if you manage to find the Fluc itself, it’s very easy to miss the basement part.
Nastasia is a gifted singer, songwriter and guitarist, but as a performer she’s hard to love. Her songs are brittle and intimate; although she sits alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, she is not by any stretch a folk singer. Her voice is chillingly precise, her guitar playing fluid and sparkling; while her lyrics speak evocatively of night-time, ghosts and blood on the road.
The problem, to these ears, is that many of her songs are simply too short. They sound like fleeting sketches; just when they sound like they are about to take flight, they fizzle out. Nastasia frequently misses the opportunity to instil drama into a song through insistence and repetition. She clearly realises that “This Is What It Is” is her best song, since she saves it to the end of the set; yet this was one of the few songs where the music and words were given the space and openness they merited.
Secondly, her performance last night was annoyingly diffident. She didn’t speak to the audience at all at first, and when she did, it was to discuss a piece of graffiti she’d seen on a toilet wall. She took a request – fine, but then she just shrugged at the audience as if to say “any more?” And when she extemporised “this is a sucky version of this song” during “A Dog’s Life”, it was as though she’d given up on the idea of capturing the audience’s attention through authoritative performance.
I’ve always believed that artists have certain obligations to their live audiences to put on a memorable performance; that basically amounts to not much more than putting in a reasonable amount of effort. The greatest live performers I’ve seen – Hammill, Gira, Springsteen – understand this instinctively. For all her undoubted talents, I don’t think Nina Nastasia does.