It’s a glorious occasion when a record you love is exposed to you in a different light. Live at Islington Assembly Hall Natalie Prass lifts the gentle lilt and forlorn heartbreak of her debut album into something bolder, becoming feisty and lively in places where on record it’s sweet and lulling. There’s still a sensitivity and tingle to proceedings, but they’re imbued with rocking electric guitars and defiant stage banter, making this an entirely different experience, and one which resulted in numerous collective gasps through the night.
Usually the suggestion that an artist or band makes music that everyone will like means that it is bland or unadventurous, but Prass uses the classic reveries and structures as a springboard, emancipating them from constrictions without losing their immediacy and enchantment. A stripped back and breathy version of Fool evoked swinging and smokey caberet clubs, whilst the bouncing Bird of Prey was all r’n’b giddiness, and It Is You switched from its lush orchestration to a rocking and remorseless rhythm, as she invites her bandmates in one by one until the dreamlike beginning becomes a riotous and smouldering fanfare. Perhaps it’s the fact that her debut album was in fact recorded three years ago which allows her to step away from the emotion of the heartbreak it chronicles, and fuse them with power and an edge.
It’s testament to Prass’s talent and personality that despite it only being a Wednesday night gig to a couple of hundred people she was able to roll out both Ryan Adams and Jessie Ware to perform with her. As exclamations of ‘what the fuck’ swept over the audience, Prass looked like she was just having a damn good time with her mates. Ryan Adams stepping out and started jamming away on Violently was something of a magical moment. But she’s not just about big names and impressive statements for their own sake, and also invited Mississippi pal Alva Leigh on stage as they reminisced back, crooning away to one another.
Practically every member of the audience now has a huge crush on Prass, her quirky personality, milky vocals and sense of wonder a hybrid of Zooey Descchanel, Jenny Lewis and Sharon Van Etten. Her smouldering charisma was punctuated by kooky jokes and smiles, deadpan commentary (‘Christy was a bitch’ ‘This is a new track called Coat. I don’t say the word Coat once in it.’) and genuine giggles. Her commanding presence is also sweet and amusing, a doe eyed but gritty sincerity warming her to everyone in the crowd. Her vulnerability seemed to morph into strength, her sweetness into sensuality and her tender talent an authentic and powerful performance.
Tonight was the night that a good set of songs became something great in the arms of a sublime and beautiful artist. Natalie Prass.
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