Heather Nova, Gasometer, Vienna, 19 October 2008

My first visit to the Gasometer in ages, and my first Heather Nova concert since a rather subdued acoustic affair at the Concorde in Brighton in 2003, when she was pregnant and my own son was not yet two weeks old. I met her afterwards and got my copies of the CDs signed, also my copy of her book. Strangely enough, that book was one of the few I brought to Vienna with me.  On taking it down from the shelves the other day, I found to my dismay that the hard cover had come adrift from the pages.

As for the Gasometer, it was too big a venue for her (she related the story of how this evening had originally been planned as a rest day on the tour, but she told her agent that she wanted to come to Vienna), and they closed off the circle to make the space more intimate. The acoustics, however, were pin-sharp. J., with his alert and experienced pair of ears, has often been critical of the PA at this venue, but they seem to have put a new rig in now, perhaps to coincide with the takeover by Planet Music.

The concert was highly enjoyable from beginning to end. Heather is a stunningly natural performer with a magnificent voice; when she lets rip with one of her extended high notes, she sounds like an angel as well as looking like one. She’s also a hard artist to pigeonhole. When she first emerged in the early ’90s, she was mostly thought of as an indie girl, and she also has something of the waifish folk singer about her. But at the end of the day, what she is more than anything else is a rock chick. She is at her best on bright, confident tunes like “London Rain” and “Walk This World”, with their swaggering chord progressions and thrilling guitar solos. The ballads, meanwhile, such as “I Wanna Be Your Light” and “Fool For You”, are supremely affecting, touched by the luminous emotions of her lyrics and the aching beauty of her voice.

Apart from the fact that she didn’t play my favourite of all her songs, “Truth and Bone”, I had no complaints at all about the setlist, which included a gratifyingly large number of songs from her best album, Siren. Like Peter Hammill (with whom I suspect she is not often compared), she didn’t seem unduly concerned by the need to promote her new record, and only played two or three songs from it. Instead she ranged widely across her back catalogue, resulting in a perfectly paced show that showcased every facet of her exceptional singing and songwriting gifts.

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