thu 20/06/2024

Julie Byrne, Juni Habel, Kings Place review - finely tuned evening balancing dark with light | reviews, news & interviews

Julie Byrne, Juni Habel, Kings Place review - finely tuned evening balancing dark with light

Julie Byrne, Juni Habel, Kings Place review - finely tuned evening balancing dark with light

Two singer-songwriters who refuse to be overwhelmed by anguish

Julie Byrne: looking for signals of what’s within is inevitableTonje Thilesen

It’s probably an unconscious action. Sat on a stage-centre chair, Julie Byrne sings. The two acoustic guitars she plays for about half the set are beside her, on their racks. One hand is above the other, palms down. Each moves side-to-side in a chopping motion. It’s not simultaneous with the song’s rhythm and independent of the meter of the lines. It’s not obvious what's being complemented or ticked off, but it must draw from something concealed by the exterior.

Looking for signals of what’s within at this London show by the US singer-songwriter is inevitable. The completion of Byrne’s recent album The Greater Wings was interrupted by the death of her collaborator, partner and producer Eric Littmann. At this concert, she mentions Littmann – “you may have read about him” – and speaks to the audience about consciously being aware of people who are no longer here: those who have been lost. Littmann is an unseen presence. She notes that he wrote the synth line of The Greater Wings’ “Summer Glass.” Before it’s played, she says “he’s the heartbeat of it, with this song we honour him.”

Julie Byrne is having fun

All this implies that her first run of shows since November 2019 are imbued with grief – and this Kings Place appearance did not sidestep that. But like noticing the hand gestures, seeing the post-Greater Wings Julie Byrne live fills-out the picture, making it clear the emotional fallout is balanced against the delight of performing again. “Conversation is a Flowstate” suddenly falls apart after its first verse. Something is missing from the instrumentation. Byrne immediately laughs, says it will be picked up from the second verse and asks the audience “you're along for the ride?” She is having fun.

The evening begins with “I Live Now as a Singer,” the final track from her previous album, 2017’s Not Even Happiness. Whether explicitly stated or not, she is picking up from where she left off. That was a final page, here’s the next chapter. Nine tracks from The Greater Wings follow. Not Even Happiness was returned to with the encore’s “Sleepwalker.” Mid-set – the only song she stood up for – is the as-yet unrecorded “’22,” presumably a reference to the year.

As with the balance between happiness and sorrow, another symmetry is at play when acoustic guitar-based songs are interposed with those where the main foundations are keyboards and synthesiser. There are no drums. Violin is more to the fore than on The Greater Wings. Interestingly, Byrne sings in a lower register than her speaking voice. She is accompanied by Jake Falby, who arranged the strings on and co-produced The Greater Wings. He had arranged and played strings on Not Even Happiness. Tonight, he switches between bass, guitar, keyboards and violin. Also on stage is Brooklyn’s Katie Von Schleicher, who has her own solo career and has been previously billed with Byrne. She plays guitar, keyboards and synth, while overseeing electronics.

In person, Juni Habel is bright and open

The result is a rounder picture of Julie Byrne than that offered by The Greater Wings – unequivocally confirming that delight is still to be found. After the show, she’s in the foyer animatedly chatting with whoever fancies talking.

Similarly, moments after she came on stage it’s clear that Norway’s Juni Habel, who was on first, shares this duality: the understanding that dark and light can co-exist. Her last album, Carvings, was brooding and crepuscular. In person, she’s bright and open, remarking how surreal it is that in the morning she was in her own bed in small-town southern Norway and, now, here she is, straight from the airport and onto a London stage. She says songwriting “is about noticing what is there” – the need to dig, which Byrne shares. She plays Carvings’ “Rhythm” and explains it draws from a dream she had about the end of the world where she is swimming in dark waters with her mother. As they knew what was coming, the experience was beautiful. It’s said with straightforward cheeriness. Embracing what's presented with curiosity and elation is who she is.

Both Juni Habel and Julie Byrne fit into the folk-influenced singer-songwriter bag, yet neither is wedded to templates. This evening of multiple, delicately poised equilibriums confirmed that each is an explorer, a conduit expressing what lies beneath the surface.

@MrKieronTyler

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