When a 22-year-old Natalie Imbruglia broke onto the music scene in 1997 following her departure from hit Australian daytime soap Neighbours, the UK set their expectations firmly in the Kylie camp. But as big a hit as her debut single Torn was, Imbruglia’s style was very much planted in the pop/rock genre, a style that produced wonderful debut record Left Of The Middle which threw her out into the public domain and up there with the likes of contemporaries Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette.
But Imbruglia wasn’t made for arenas and massive festival stages, her dulcet tones and delicate stylings would go on to produce just four more records of original material over the following 12 years before her most recent release Male, an album of covers originally recorded by male artists which was released in 2015, but none reaching the dizzy heights of her debut. The result of which allows us to enjoy Natalie Imbruglia in the close confines of intimate venues such as tonight’s show at North London’s beautiful Union Chapel.
Strolling on the Union Chapel stage shortly after her three-piece band comprised of Ben Lyonsmyth on guitars and bass, Ryan Farmery behind keys and the cajon alongside band lead Pete Rinaldi and his guitars and additional vocals, have kicked off a stripped-back rendition of 2002 single Wrong Impression, keys and gentle acoustic guitar strumming set the tone for tonight, a showcase for Imbruglia’s strong and enduring voice. And, as advertised in the tabloids, she looks fabulous and youthful. Daniel Johns-penned Satisfied is up next, the song by the former Silverchair man (and Imbruglia’s ex-husband) ringing out a show tune vibe tonight.
“Our third and last night in Union Chapel, not bad hey? And it’s a Friday!” The 43-year-old yells ahead of keys kicking off her beautifully re-engineerd rendition of I Will Follow You Into The Dark from Death Cab For Cutie’s seminal 2005 album Plans, a fabulous selection from Imbruglia’s Male record, drinking in the intimacy of Union Chapel.
The title track to Imbruglia’s 2007 greatest hits record Glorious is up next, the North London crowd clapping along from the off for the sun-soaked single. Country instrumentation by way of lap steel is brought out for White Lilies Island cut Beauty On The Fire, adding a different dimension to the 2002 single. Keys kick off the title track to third record Counting Down The Days, the ballad perfectly at home echoing about the Upper Street church venue.
“In case you’re wondering what that is, that’s just my little honey jar” the actress-turned-pop star says as she sips from a cup placed below the church alter. “Can you believe, that last year it was 20 years since I released Left Of The Middle” she continues to huge cheers from the crowd before going on to tell of how her current tour would include songs from that record not usually aired, debut record tune Pigeons And Crumbs kicking off with rhythm produced from a cajon. Counting Down The Days opener Starting Today is dedicated to a leaver in Imbruglia’s team, adding further warmth to the intimate show.
“This next song was written for the second album and I was in Los Angeles set up to work with this really big writer-producer called Patrick Leonard and I was really nervous, so I did a lot of lyrical prep” Imbruglia explains of what she described as a ‘massive stream of consciousness’, something which Leonard suggested was recorded as-is rather than edited, resulting in song That Day. “Dare you to try and sing along” she smirks as she begins her busy, urgent and eccentric ramblings of a mind with too much going on at once over strummed electric guitar.
Left Of The Middle fan favourite City is up next, many of her earliest fans singing along with the alt. rock tune, albeit stripped of its fire for tonight’s show before Counting Down The Days’ first single Shiver is aired, dedicated to Imbruglia’s boyfriend, photographer Matt Field who I find myself sat next to as he is asked by a friend if he knows the song, to which he nods in the affirmative.
A one-two punch of haunting Left Of The Middle single Smoke and biggest hit Torn suggest the end of the night is near, the latter kicking off with unfamiliar keys laid beneath tip-of-the-tongue lyrics, the crowd immediately singing along before even more familiar guitars are added for the second verse, encouraging the audience to their feet.
The main set is rounded out with the Sydney native’s cover of Daft Punk hit Instant Crush, Imbruglia’s take on The Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas’ vocal part definitely a highlight of her 2015 record. And in usual style, the now London-resident departs the stage only to reappear moments later to close out the night with airings of Left Of The Middle classics Intuition and Big Mistake.
As enjoyable as tonight is with stripped-back renditions of pop hits accompanied by Imbruglia’s strong and unwavering voice, these songs seem a little lacking without the instrumentation that accompanies their recorded counterparts and leaves the audience wanting for that extra oomph to get them up from their rather uncomfortable pews to dance along. But Imbruglia herself is endearing and warm while her voice remains stunning.
Live review and photos of Natalie Imbruglia @ Union Chapel by Kalpesh Patel on 9th February 2018.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate