Live Review: Jessica Pratt’s piercing performance at The Blue Arrow Jazz Club

News that Jessica Pratt, a Californian singer-songwriter with a chill folk-esque sound, had handpicked Saul Adamczewski of Fat White Family and Insecure Men to accompany her on her UK tour admittedly came as a surprise. Pratt’s sound has a graceful, ethereal quality: enchanting vocals interwoven with delicate acoustic guitar, layered upon atmospheric keys. Contrast this to Fat White Family, notorious for their fever dream breed of post-punk psychedelic and gritty live performances. An intriguing pairing to say the least.

As the sunken-eyed, toothless Adamczewski marches through the mostly seated crowd, mulleted saxophonist Adam White hot on his heels, the mood of the lush Glasgow basement bar switches from that of cosy craft-beer-sipping dad-folk to a joyously uncomfortable edginess. Although the lights may be low and the walls tiled, this isn’t to be an evening of easy listening.

A few wonky strums into Adamczewski’s first number, the rationale behind Pratt’s invitation is made obvious. With his dive-bar instrumentals and neurotic vocals, Adamczewski, just like Pratt, is totally engrossing. His lyrics are strange, funny and more than a tad bonkers: “Bad people…” he murmurs, his voice laden with the deadpan humour of a filterless rollie,“…have no souls.” Raised eyebrows precede gasps of uncertain laughter as Adamczewski wails out ‘Goodbye Goebbels’ atop White’s bracing flute, a rendition which, like many of Adamczewski’s songs of the evening, takes on a new, dare-one-say better life under a broken-down, raw style.

With the audience apprehensive, confused, and entirely hooked, Pratt’s performance becomes more than a recital. The strangeness of Adamczewski’s set had lured attendees to listen actively and question what befell their ears; Pratt’s profiteers off this, exorcising from the tracks any familiarity that might coax listeners away from the weirdness of her music. Because Pratt’s music is weird — starkly and hauntingly so. Wielding an ultrahigh, sickly-sweet voice that bends and trembles, Pratt enchants and bewitches. Her albums, the latest of which, Quiet Night, this tour succeeds, are beautiful, yet stand in pale comparison to this live performance which retains all the records’ charm whilst imbuing them with a hypnotising stage presence that is near impossible to resist.

Pratt is accompanied by a keyboard, part equally responsible for the compelling atmosphere throughout, particularly during the eery, fragmented intro of ‘Opening Night’ and its subsequent track ‘As the World Turns.’ Even when Pratt’s fingerpicking slows to silence at the resolution of each number, it takes more than half a moment to for the audience to blink themselves back from fantasy and put their corporeal hands together. Pratt’s execution is piercing, most pronouncedly on ‘Crossing,’ performed with a siren-like sweetness that entraps with melody before plunging into a dark, punctuated echo. Forget the wax; this one’s worth going down for.

 

Image: Reuben Fox McClure

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