Commencing a half empty Gov band room, Belgium singer Charlotte Adigery introduces her band, “We are water” (pronounced without the additional w’s). Between one man on electronics and another on live drums, Charlotte’s piercing gospel vocals lead into faux rapping, referencing a far ranging multitude of influences from Donna Sumner to Santigold and the energetic music betraying an 80s Ze Records influence as well as the inclusion of a mid set ballad that sounded like an electronic Morricone Spaghetti Western theme. The slow building audience came in from outside to engage with what was going on and certainly liked what they saw, Charlotte’s African cultural heritage ever present in her dancing styles. Closing with a cover of the Slits song Earthbeat was perhaps just a coincidental reference to Neneh Cherry’s past musical collaborations. By the end of their forty minute set, I am sure that people were going to go home tonight and further explore this surprising musical talent.
Neneh’s last appearance in Adelaide during her debut Australian tour was backed by the duo RocketNumberNine on electronics at WOMADelaide in 2015. This time she has a full band line up in tow, the six-piece band dressed in complementing but not matching army camouflage shirts excepting Neneh and her life/musical partner Cameron McVey with percussionist Rosie doing her own thing by wearing a cartoon version of military garb.
Following a greeting of “Good Evening”, Neneh holds her phone to the mic to play the album interlude Poem Daddy as an intro while the assembled band contribute instrumental atmosphere. She then continues, “It’s good to see you… all of you” before they commence with the trip hop lullaby Fallen Leaves, the opening track from latest album Broken Politics of which the set is an out of order run through omitting on only one song.
The second song has a false start and is stopped while Neneh does an impromptu sound check to correct her inner ear monitor and improvises a short rap before recommencing Shot Gun Shack. Bassist Samson is grooving and enjoying himself almost too much, at times a distracting figure taking centre stage attention away from Neneh.
Following the meditative Deep Vein Thrombosis which she introduces jokingly as “better known as blood clot”, Neneh talks about her previous twenty four hours off with Rosie in Adelaide, suffering in the heat and thanks Adelaidians for their shopping and dining recommendations. Faster Than The Truth is punchy with a sinister bass-line, the addition of a lazy, laid back rap and an extended outro with Rosie vigorously pounding the drums. During the melancholic, musically sparse Synchronised Devotion with Rosie is again to the fore performing an accomplished solo on vibraphone, the autobiographical and diary-like spoken word section serves as a belated self-introduction: “My name is Neneh. March tenth. I’m a water sign. I’m a Pieces”.
Neneh rouses the audience into a sing along of Happy Birthday for band member Iona’s birthday after which the harpist switches to bass for the spaced out reggae of Natural Skin Deep. Curiously the steel pan drum hook is a sample and not played live, strange considering the presence of a steel pan drum onstage that was used only for Rosie’s contribution to the band improvisation during the faux intro tape/performance of Poem Daddy.
There is a seemingly spontaneous a capella rendition of the Who Stole the Cookie From the Cooke Jar by Neneh before the band continues the set with Black Monday during which Samson plays bass with a violin bow and the harp brings to mind Bjork’s Pagan Poetry.
To an audience call of Yesterday, Neneh responds by singing the opening line of that Beatles classic then introduces one of the first of her songs from the distant past, Manchild. Following band introductions and a contextual preamble to Soldier, Neneh misses her cue so the song has to be restarted after a call and response with the audience. The is the last song before the band leaves and returns for the encore with a positive Cameron stating, “This town gives me hope” leading into a beat heavy I’ve Got You Under My Skin including Neneh’s HIV/AIDS rap. Except for the chorus and Iona’s piano refrain in the breakdown, this song diverges significantly from the standard and becomes Neneh’s own. She ends with one of her most well known songs and although it was well received, unfortunately Buffalo Stance has had the coarse edges smoothed somewhat, losing some potency and suffers by being transformed into a familiar audience sing along. There are notable disappointed calls for more (regarding the short set of just over an hour) and although the calls are noted, they are not heeded. Overall it was a very good show but I do feel for those less familiar or not as enamoured with the latest album who may not have been as fully served by this shorter set. Don’t worry though, the kids are now all grown up and Neneh told me herself she will be back.
Live review by Jason Leigh