Adam Barnes, Rags
Mellowtone & The Sound
Sunday, 4th November 2012
The evening begins with a rare live performance Rags. Having impressed last year with excellent single You Started It All, produced by Picture book, we’ve heard very little from the Norwegian songstress. Alone with an acoustic guitar, Rags’ astounding voice does its best to encourage a series of uninspiring songs. Littered with b-movie lyrics and sub Norah Jones melodies, each track blends gravely into the next as Rags struggles to connect with an increasingly disinterested audience.
Promising singer-songwriter Adam Barnes comes to Leaf after an impressive 2012, touring extensively and prickling the ears of national press with his lovely mini album Blisters. As he launches into a heart-breaking rendition of Come Undone, his voice cracking as the high notes just escape him, it’s impossible not to warm to the young lad from Oxford. The sprawling piano accompaniment threatens to over power at times, especially on If I Was a Lonely Man which would have benefited from a bit more subtlety. His best songs by some distance though are those that tackle the darker side of human emotion, epitomised by the bleak and sombre We Can Only Sleep. At times though Ben’s songwrting flirts around the wrong side of average, as he introduces a flavourless ballad “about loving apples” whilst the audience regretfully concede that there is no metaphor and perhaps he just really loves apples.
Headliner Terra Naomi eventually shuffles on stage offering a few timid words of introduction. With over 20 million YouTube hits, Terra is one of the pioneers of the internet pop-star, epitomising the hope and optimism that came during the YouTube boom back in 2006. These days of course, unknown singers are getting millions of hits every week as ‘YouTube sensation’ becomes the most winced at term in music, only emphasising how well Terra has done to launch a three album (and counting) career off the back of it.
Terra plays alone on stage, offering much more stripped back renditions of her songs, much to their benefit. Up Here and Jenny are transformed into quirky, fun pop gems as Terra plays with the tempo and dynamic at will, giving them a personality that struggles to come across on record. The Vicodin Song is astonishingly moving as the snow patrol-esque guitars are replaced by a sparse, twinkling piano arrangement, rendering a chatty LEAF second floor utterly silent.
The covers inevitably rear their heads, as Terra plods through lazy versions of Billie Jean and Time After Time prompting much of the audience decide they need another drink. It would be unfair to dwell on these two songs too much, but with three albums worth of original material to play with you have to question their inclusion at all, especially for an artist who has spent the last few years trying to escape her YouTube success story.
The songs are far from extraordinary, but it is the charm and charisma that Terra both speaks and performs with that keeps the set from falling flat. This enables her to transcend all the musical clichés and criticisms that come with music of her genre and her background and produce a memorable performance. Whether it will be enough to maintain her popularity beyond the next few years is questionable, but for tonight, in what is one of the loveliest venues in the City, it will do just fine.