Emiliana Torrini at the Great American Hall, 8/18/09

by Raffi Youssoufian on August 31, 2009

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Running as fast as I could from the Studio on the Tenth Floor on New Montgomery, after the newest Spinning Platters podcast recording (cough), I made it to the bus stop only to find myself hoping I wouldn’t miss Emiliana Torrini’s first song.  Long story short, I gave in, hopped a cab, and made it just into the middle of song two (sorry, I know I know, Blur pun….I couldn’t help myself).

I came into a packed house for Emiliana, so I had to stand well in the back.  They did have the whole floor set up with tables, to give it that jazz show feel, and I could see why they would do that, but Emiliana makes you move a lot more than, I’m sorry, Norah Jones would.  I did see her perform in March at the Independent without such tables, and yes people were encouraged to enlist in some activity that could be considered booty shaking, and I was one who did take that advice, but even Emiliana brought up the issue tonight!  Right before the last song, she said in her adorable Icelandic accent, “If there weren’t any tables in this cake, (I’ll get to the cake part), this would be less a gig, but more of a rave, because everyone would be dancing their butts off!”  The cake reference was to the beauty and decor of the Great American Music Hall, which compared to most venues, as she put it earlier, felt like she was playing inside of a house that was a really an elegant cake.

The show itself was pristine.  Backed by her band of northwestern European musicians, with England, Scotland, and Iceland thoroughly represented, Emiliana played a wide set ranging her three albums.  She’s a very confident yet humble artist on the stage, playful with the audience and in her own spirit.  Emiliana is clearly one of the funniest artists I’ve ever seen, making the audience laugh in a genuinely humorous way as she tells the stories behind each song.  Few and far between are artists who will actually do that on stage, and talk about what inspired each of them.  It takes a lot of courage to give people a why, but then again everyone isn’t as charismatic on stage as she is.  It really adds a personal dimension that allows the audience to connect with the artist even further as they open up.

The set list according to me was as follows:

Fire Heads
Heartstopper
Today Has Been Okay
Lifesaver
Sunny Road
Hold Heart
Nothing Brings Me Down
Big Jumps
Unemployed In Summertime
Tuna Fish
Jungle Drum
Ha-Ha
Beggar’s Prayer
Birds
Me and Armini
Gun

Encore:

Summerbreeze
Fisherman’s Woman

That playfulness shows up in the music because she’s not shy about expanding her palette.  It’s a little hard to classify her in one particular genre, as she will jump from a lovely acoustic guitar lullaby “Lifesaver,” to a rocking reggae infused “Me and Armini,” to a more jazz guitar inspired “Hold Heart.”  Fans were definitely happy that she played some songs from her first and still quietly beloved record, “Love in the Time of Science.”  Most didn’t have the chance to hear those songs live as her only two tours for that record were opening for Tricky and then Coldplay.

I think the story she tells about the first single “Birds,” on the newest album Me and Armini is the best snapshot of what she is like, if you had to go with something small.  She and her writing partner spent one twenty-four hour day writing songs in a house outside the city by the woods, and they just had about one of the most joyful times of their lives.  She was very animated as she described him tumbling down the hill by the house with branches coming out of his hair, which he did really for no apparent reason other than to just have some fun.  And the song was written about that feeling of just pure happy with a good friend.  And that sense of genuineness, wanting to live life as it comes and just wanting to play emanates as you’re watching and listening to her perform, regardless of the song she’s singing, or what it’s about.  Honesty in music is something people are always drawn to, and that is one thing about Emiliana that you can’t help but see.

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