Nerina lights the Fires

Nerina PallotNerina Pallot, live @ Manchester Academy II, on Monday, January 29, 2007

Nerina Pallot is breathtakingly beautiful – though not enough to upstage her delicately crafted and perfectly delivered songs at Manchester’s Academy 2.

Whispers go around the venue in the moments before the singer-songwriter is due on stage, filled with people justifying to their girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, friend/whatever why they have dragged them along to see some strangely named bird they’ve never heard of on a cold Monday in winter.

“You might have heard one of her songs,” the chat goes. “Everybody’s Gone To War?”

But by the end of the night, Nerina (pictured) has won the battle without any bloodshed, if not at least by singing, she’s charmed the pants off the doubters with her hilariously off-on-a-tangent interludes, with her cutesy ways, with a flick of her illuminating smile.

With just a piano, grin and great dress, she opens with Idaho – the song she has said is as close to delivering her manifesto as any – and suddenly the strange mix of students, mid-30s couples, and parents with young teens are hooked, including the rather odd, large sweaty man with glasses perched at the front of the stage incessantly taking photos with his pocket-size digital camera.

Anyone who has heard Nerina’s two albums – Dear Frustrated Superstar and Fires – could be forgiven trying to pin down who Nerina is. She seems wildly inconsistent – a poor Shania Twain at her worst, a decent Sheryl Crow at her most mediocre, an as-good-as Joni Mitchell at her best – and the only way to truly understand her idiosyncrasies is to see them crashing in front of you.

In Geek Love she sings: “Don’t presume to know shit about me.” And it’s a fair warning.

The contradictions are manifold; for a start she’s far too pretty to be a geek!

Next comes her onstage demeanour. She can go from singing a strident, carefully constructed anthem to speaking to the audience in a ditzy inarticulate manner, flashing a vacant expression before hitting with the wittiest of punch lines and launching into another piece of intelligent song writing.

It can’t be the same girl that utters such inanities as, “You all look very nice this evening,” and, “I’m tired. I’ve been very busy … shopping,” yet then sings of Venus, Apollo and Daphne, and an interesting take on her own, missed Damascene Conversion.

Sorry if I’m presuming here, but she’s probably educated beyond Heat-magazine level, judging by her quite posh English accent (even if she does often sing with an annoying American twang of “quarters”, “phone booths” and driving to some northwest U.S. state).

If any more proof is needed that she is faking her foolishness, she explains the meaning behind Blood Is Blood in her childlike voice, saying: “Many moons ago I wrote a song which went on my first album about man’s inhumanity to man. Worryingly it still seems rather current.”

If this music lark fails, she has a career in stand-up comedy waiting. She introduces another song as, “about shagging”. Three and a half minutes later, after the audience have lapped it up, she excitedly declares: “It seems you like shagging. This next one’s not about shagging … it’s about death.”

Yet even in her sombre tunes – there are at least three which mention expiring – she is somehow uplifting, the state she is even more effectively able to induce with genuinely inspiring numbers such as Learning To Breathe and All Good People.

But the contradictions don’t stop there. If her first album was wildly overproduced by the knob-twiddlers, Fires was masterfully put together. Yet in Manchester, Nerina had just herself and a choice of piano, Wurlitzer or acoustic guitar to belt out her set. There was no chance of overcooking the songs but, sadly, also no opportunity to do some of them real justice – especially her aforementioned biggest hit to date.

After Everybody’s Gone To War, she claimed to be done for the night. But having left out the stand-out album track, Sophia, it was inevitable she was to return.

“I love the encore game,” she said, stepping back on stage swigging a bottle of Jacob’s Creek. “It’s like if you pretend to believe in Santa till you’re about 14, you get double the presents.” And how she delivered the goodies before heading off up the road to Newcastle, just as I was getting my breath back.

None of it made much sense, yet it was so good it almost erased from memory what was a fine support act, Tom Baxter. He is working on his first (I think) major album and is one to watch for the future, even if his incredibly defined singing voice, masterful guitar plucking and effective-but-random percussion accompaniment from his brother were sometimes spoiled by a bit too much cheese, cliche and stereotype. He looked a little too much like Shayne Ward as well.

Nerina Pallot

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