City Hall, Sheffield, 22/4/2017
published: 27 /
Fiona Hutchings gets dressed up and breaks rules all for the joy of seeing Caro Emerald and her band
I should start with full disclosure on two points; Number one, my husband and I are huge fans of Ms Emerald and have seen her live before so our expectations for her performance in Sheffield this time around were pretty high, Secondly, press tickets mean we didn't get to choose our seats and as such they turned out to be less than ideal for reviewing purposes. We were as high up in the city hall as it was possible to be, proper nose bleeders as my grandfather might have said and because we were right on the side of the stage at least a third of it was totally blocked from view, so we couldn't see everything and sometimes felt a little bit 'above' the show, at least to start with.
We entertained ourselves waiting for the concert to start spotting various other members of the audience trying to seat hop so they could see more of the stage. Some got away with it while others were forced to do the walk of shame back to their original seats. Despite urging from my husband that we move to some better empty seat too, I am at heart much more of a rule follower than anyone gives me credit for so I refused. Then the party in our direct line of vision got up and danced two songs into Caro's set meaning we could see precisely nothing and despite several taps of the shoulder from security they wouldn't be denied their right to throw some interesting shapes. So I agreed to move eventually. Here ends my confession.
So, back to the start of the evening. Support act Irit Dekel definitely deserves a mention. Barefoot, with red lipstick to match her trousers and a Louise Brooks bob, she took to the stage with just an acoustic guitarist and an accordion player for company (as far as I could see). I felt like her sound wouldn't be out of place in a smokey backstage Parisian bar while my husband decided he could equally see her crooning in a bar in Havana. Then she told us all she hailed from Tel Aviv and so threw out all our cultural stereotypes. Maybe an accordion makes every song sound sad but her sound was very bittersweet, even the final number, an unexpected cover of REM's 'Shiny Happy People' had a beautifully sad air compared to the very upbeat original. She sounded soulful and sad, considered and passionate. She has a new album out called 'Hello' which I definitely intend to check out.
Then it was time to clear the way boys, the lady herself had arrived. Last time Ms Emerald surprised us all by starting the concert appearing on the balcony opposite us to sing before moments later appearing on the stage. We were taking bets on whether she would do the same again this time and wouldn't it be just our luck if she was on the balcony below us so we wouldn't see her at all but as she came into view firmly on the stage, it became apparent that Ms Emerald is expecting a little jewel of her own so perhaps she wasn't feeling up to running around backstage this time. Not that her bump stopped her giving us her all for the next one hundred minutes (and she is used to touring whilst pregnant as she did in 2013). She was as poised, beautiful and engaging as always. Her voice never sounded anything less than clear as a bell and so confident whether she was singing sad songs of loss, glorifying in the joy of liquid lunches or dropping beats and multi tracking herself live on stage. She invited us on to her 'Emerald Island' (which just happens to be the name of her new album) and later into the fantastical Emerald Club and we all went along very gladly.
We were treated to plenty of her hits including 'That Man', 'Quicksand' and 'Riviera Life' alongside some newer tracks including "Never Ever" and 'Tahitian Skies' which were equally well received. One of the things that always stands out with Caro Emerald is how much she involves her band in the show. She ensures all of them are introduced to the audience, all get their own little solo spot which works very well and is never out of place or self indulgent. While she remains the star of the show you can't help but get a real feel for the mutual admiration and respect she and her band have for each other and their audience. They are a fantastic bunch of musicians, many of whom seem to swap between multiple instruments (sometimes during one song). Two in particular stood out, the guitarist, Wieger Hoogendorp, dances around like Edwyn Collins circa 1980 in his shades and David Temple swaps between sax, clarinet and guitars of various sizes playing to the crowd and dancing with his band mates. It doesn't feel like this is just their job, it feels like they are genuinely having fun and it's infectious. The impressive light show and graphics on the stage complimented the various moods perfectly.
Unlike so many performers who only communicate between songs to announce the next track Caro talks warmly to the audience, sweeping us away to somewhere warm and tropical on a rather chilly spring night in Sheffield. We could see so many people who had dressed up, like us, in their best vintage inspired clothes in homage to a performer who mixes the classic with the new in a way that always sounds timeless.
The City Hall is legendary among concert fans for not allowing dancing as a general rule but as more and more of the audience start to ignore the no standing rule she finally convinces the rest of us to get up and dance too - as long as it won't impede the view of the people behind, so maybe start with the back row? Well since you asked so nicely Caro... The joy in the crowd was palpable. If nothing else, sitting up in the gods meant we could see most of our fellow concert goers, so we could see the couple across from us dancing a charleston in the fire exit and the very enthusiastic couple down in the stalls pulling as many other people to their feet as would be pulled. We could see the parent near the stage dancing with his young child and the two women directly across from us doing their best strictly ballroom impression. Regardless of what kind of dance it was, whether it was strictly speaking in rhythm, self conscious or flinging your body around with abandon, what seemed to unite everyone was the sheer joy of the music and enjoying it. Isn't that the feeling every concert should leave you with? That natural high that comes from enjoying fantastic music, feeling lifted and sharing that with the people around you?
I'm guessing after this tour Ms Emerald might be taking a little time off for herself but I equally have no doubt she will be back in due course to thrill us with more of her jazz meets electro pop swing and I for one, can't wait.