“Good evening London” KT Tunstall screamed. “It’s so lovely to be here, what a strange, strange day” she said. “But we couldn’t be in a better place than one of the best venues in the world!”
Scottish singer, songwriter and musician KT Tunstall has been on some journey in the 12 years since the release of her hit debut record Eye to the Telescope, which spawned a series of well-received singles and earned the then 28-year-old a Mercury Music Prize nomination.
Fast forward to 2016 and the release of her fifth studio album KIN sees the now 41-year-old upbeat and reinvigorated after setting up home in L.A. to pursue film music work which ultimately inspired her to, as she describes, move back to “pop mode” and record KIN.
In stark contrast to the glum and freezing day outside the doors of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, both due to the scary words “President-elect Donald Trump” being uttered as fact and the super-freeze currently battering the nation, Tunstall appeared on stage in full-blown, sparkling technicolour – well dressed in bright white – backed by her all-American three-piece band comprised of keyboardist Rachel Eckroth, bass player Solomon Dorsey and drummer Denny Weston Jr.
Letting the crowd know that tonight’s show was being recorded for a live album she encouraged her audience: “so that means more swearing, more heckling and just as much screaming as you think you can muster” before kicking off her set with 2008 single If Only from sophomore release Drastic Fantastic, the familiar tune getting her faithful audience singing along from the off.
Tunstall’s banter continued, introducing her next track with an anecdote about a time when Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl saw her at a Baltimore music festival and screamed “Tunstall, first song on your second album … awesome, it rocks!” Tunstall encouraging crowd participation for the Drastic Fantastic album opener Little Favours as she took any break in singing to bound about the West London stage, encouraging the audience to pogo along with her.
“So I wrote some new songs” she said to cheers. “I wasn’t going to. I have moved to Venice Beach California … not quite so cool today … but that basically explains why I’m wearing white jeans” she continued before going on to explain her new material was inspired by driving around the hills and canyons around Los Angeles, the same part of the world that had inspired her heroes, Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty amongst others. “It’s a very celebratory, joyful record” she said before kicking off upbeat first single from KIN, Maybe It’s a Good Thing.
Evil Eye from the new record was up next before Tunstall continued in full VH1 Storytellers mode, engaging the crowd in a discussion about the issues with long-distance relationships, the theme behind Eye to the Telescope single Other Side of the World. “Just go local London, it’s better for the environment” she jested. Drastic Fantastic single Hold On had Tunstall requesting the crowd demonstrate their beatboxing skills before beginning to layer sounds to make up the rhythm, her level of crowd engagement something missing from so many live events. She even took time out for a deviation into The Bangles’ 1986 hit single Walk Like An Egyptian.
A small break in the high-energy performance was had next as the band departed, leaving the songstress solo for 2013 single Invisible Empire. Folk blues track Black Horse And The Cherry Tree was next, Tunstall kicking it off in usual style, laying down rhythm, guitar and vocal layers using her loopstation pedal, just as she did way back in 2004 during her career-defining Later… with Jools Holland performance of the song, to cheers from her adoring audience before seguing to a cover of The White Stripes’ 2003 hit single Seven Nation Army, the song’s famous riff replicated by Tunstall on a kazoo!
Getting mushy with her audience, the 41-year-old went on to describe the new record’s title – KIN. “I wanted to find a word that wasn’t just about your family and friends” she said before shouting out to her brother in the audience and including her audience in her definition of the word, the delicate guitar work and soothing vocal harmonies a departure from the fast-pace and gritty vocals of much of her set’s make-up.
Duet Two Way had bass player Dorsey step down to the front of the stage to take on vocals contributed by James Bay on KIN. “London! How did we get to the end of the gig?” she screamed. “This is maybe our last song” she said ahead of Drastic Fantastic single Saving My Face.
After a short departure, Tunstall and her three-piece band returned to the Empire stage for a long four-song encore, Tiger Suit cut Fade Like a Shadow opening ahead of Everything Has It’s Shape, while The Healer from this year’s Golden State EP marked the only non-album track of the night. The evening was closed out with the star’s biggest hit to date, debut record single Suddenly I See. A drastically fantastic evening was had by all (pun intended) as the crowd departed the West London venue with a spring in their step on such a bizarre day for the world.
Tunstall is simply relentless (or is that restless?!), and KIN is a testament to that. While her set includes a taste of those early hits, and material from her intervening records, it is her new material which shone through tonight, demonstrating that this lady is well and truly back and what she has to say to us is a relevant as it always has been, but perhaps there’s more confidence behind her words these days.
KT Tunstall returns in 2017 supporting fellow Scots Simple Minds on their upcoming Acoustic Live ’17 tour and you can pick up a copy of tonight’s Shepherd’s Bush gig recorded live on the night here.
Live review of KT Tunstall @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire by Kalpesh Patel on 9th November 2016.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate