You know what really grinds my gears? Bands that only have one. One gear, one level of intensity. For a good hour of last night’s set, diminutive diva Alice Russell, the voice behind countless Quantic hits and that cover of “Seven Nation Army” that no one would shut up about back in 2005, was guilty of just that. She was flatlining at mid-intensity, lost in the no man’s land between tension and release and it was a shame, because everything else about her set, the first of two sold out shows at Camden’s Jazz Café, was hard to fault.
For starters, Russell’s voice is the real deal. It’s powerful, husky and taut, so good that it stops you in your tracks. Her setlist was varied and well judged, dominated by songs from 2013 release To Dust, but peppered with Pot Of Gold’s funky, old-school groovers. Her chat was warm and reassuringly rowdy and her band were Tower of Power tight. Special mention has to go Mike Simmons, a burly, roadie lookalike who turned out to be an all-singing, all-dancing, violin-, mandolin- and cowbell-playing demigod.
But though you wouldn’t have known it from the roar of the crowd, or the reaction of three ‘have a go heroes’ who broke out the sustained unision bellows when an encore didn’t seem forthcoming, Russell’s set never really caught fire.
“Let Us Be Loving”, with its juddering intro and driving groove was a step in the right direction. So was a backbeat heavy rendition of “Hard and Strong” and a whip through “To Dust”, which saw the singer bend and stretch her notes to breaking point. Better still were the encores; a version of the Colombian-inspired “I’d Cry”, with some bolero-esque violin work from Simmons, and a show-stopping take on “Got The Hunger” that had Russell writhing about on stage and growling into the mic.
But by then, it was too little too late. Too late to make up for the all slow ones that hadn’t stayed slow for long and the belters that never reached fever pitch. There’s no doubting Russell’s talent or the steely professionalism of her band, but this was too much about polish and not nearly enough about drama.
– Photo by JMJournet/Wikicommons