Kiwi singer-songwriter Brooke Fraser played the only UK date of the European leg of her Brutal Romantic tour at Camden’s Dingwalls venue in support of her fourth studio album of the same name. And while her music has been touted as New Zealand pop, that’s where any Lorde comparisons can end. While not as well established on these shores as she is in her native New Zealand, her sound has evolved more in the direction of Scandinavian synth-pop, something that is likely to sit well with a British audience.
Shrouded in darkness from the outset, the first thing you couldn’t help but notice about Fraser, as the lights were eventually turned up, was the baby bump which she has jested about in the press stating “if I become the first person to give birth on stage, ticket prices will double!”.
Opening her set with Brutal Romantic album opener Psychosocial, Fraser made a bold entrance to the North London venue with probably one of the most divergent tracks from the new record to her previous material. Gone were the band and folksy, Country sounds of previous tours replaced with just Brooke and her electric guitar used sparingly and Max who stood in front of multiple keyboards, with a MacBook producing the remainder of the sound.
The 31-year-old interspersed her set with anecdotes that led neatly into each following track. Ahead of new song Thunder she recalled making Brutal Romantic in London but yet expected the London crowd not to know the new songs as the record hadn’t yet been released in the UK. But of course the Dingwalls audience proved her wrong by singing out the lyrics.
“The next song is the oldest one I play” she said as she introduced debut album track Arithmetic. “I wrote it when I was 12” she claimed with a wry smile across her face. “The good thing about being 12 was that when I turned 13, I could have my ears pierced and so here is Arithmetic … getting it’s ears pierced” analogising the alternate version played in the new synth-pop style.
Without stating it outright, the New Zealander referenced this week’s devestating earthquake in Nepal and how an evening of enjoying live music at such a time might seem indulgent. Following a brief silence, she went on to recall being asked to sing in the home of a Rwandan family she was staying with some ten years ago and being told that her music helped them forget the pain of their day.
The dark and soulful disquiet of Je Suis Prêt was pre-empted by a tale of the Fraser family crest belonging to Brooke’s Scottish forefathers, and how it was comprised of a rather unmenacing Strawberry but accompanied by the moto “Je Suis Prêt” meaning “I am ready”.
The main set ended with the catchy pop hooks of lead single from Brutal Romantic Kings & Queens, while the single-song encore saw Brooke delve into her back-catalogue with track Something in the Water from 2010 album Flags.
The night felt cut short somewhat with the 12-song set, a couple of songs shy of the set played during her recent Australian tour, over in an hour. Perhaps it was because of the later than planned start due the fall Fraser had suffered following the sound check for the show which required a visit to a nearby hospital to ensure everything was okay with her baby. Or perhaps that was how the night was intended given the printed setlist was played in full.
It’s clear to see an evolution in Fraser’s music, with gentler acoustic-driven tracks such as Shadowfeet and C.S. Lewis Song from her 2005 sophomore album Albertine able to blend seamlessly amongst a late 1990’s Lilith Fair line-up in clear contrast to tracks from Brutal Romantic which are more akin to Bat For Lashes and Lykke Li.
But if tonight’s audience are any indicator of the response to Fraser’s new musical direction then I think it’s safe to say that the divergence is not only accepted but even welcomed.
Photography & Live Review by Kalpesh Patel.
Brooke Fraser @ Dingwalls on 28/04/2015.