Marissa Nadler, Vienna Gasthaus Vorstadt, 3 April 2008

I’ve written at some length about Marissa Nadler‘s bewitching music before (see here, here and here), so I don’t have a huge amount to add by way of reviewing her first Vienna concert last week. Just to say that the show, in the very pleasant and welcoming surroundings of the Gasthaus Vorstadt, was a stunningly effective performance, giving tangible flesh and blood to the rich and sinister carnality of her songs.

Much of the unearthly power of Nadler’s three LPs comes from the treated, reverb-heavy yet still angelic quality of her voice. I’d expected her to take a starker approach to singing live, but in the event the stage set-up allowed her voice to be treated as on record, since she had three separate microphones lined up in front of her. Presumably each microphone had been calibrated in such a way as to provide different levels of echo and reverb. During the set, Nadler flitted gracefully between them, allowing her to vary the timbre of her voice as the songs required. That voice is a thing of rare beauty, all forlorn radiance and strange, unsettling ululations.

Meanwhile, Nadler’s guitar playing was stunningly fluid and ornate, vivifying the dreamlike cyclicality of her myth-steeped texts. Her choice of cover versions was unerring: as well as Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat”, included on her recently released third LP, she also gave sombre readings of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” and Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer”. It was a pleasure and a privilege to hear her transform the songs of these three grizzled veterans into anguished expressions of abject purity.

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