There are some innovative musicians that create albums that are so unassumingly intricate and unusual that you worry about how the recorded version will translate as a live show. The songs become so familiar to your ear that it seems almost impossible to envisage them being easily recreated, especially in a scenario of unpredictability. I had had this anxiety about seeing Cate Le Bon. Having placed her third album, Mug Museum on a dangerously high pedestal from the first listen, to say that high hopes are in place for this night is an understatement. Strangely, the reality of actually seeing Le Bon perform songs all too familiar is slightly surreal because everything about her composure and how the songs come to life is both exactly what I had imagined and everything I didn’t anticipate. Suffice to say, the reality surpassed my expectations.
Arriving slightly behind schedule on the night to a packed venue is the support act, and fellow Welsh native, Stephen Black or Sweet Baboo as he is professionally known. Black’s performance style will prove a stark contrast to Cate’s in that he’s very chatty and almost apologetic at times. Some of his songs are, by his own admission, incomplete (“So, this song doesn’t actually have a title yet, nor have I written the chorus”) but they never feel as though they’re lacking in energy as his enthusiasm to be on stage and sharing these works in progress is enjoyable for both him and the audience. During one song, Black leaves the stage and stands amongst a clustered group standing near the front of the stage to hear the sound of the backing track fill the room and then he hops back on stage. He seems rather happy, and so are the crowd.
Promptly, Le Bon appears and does not waste time beginning her set with the title track from Crab Day. It is fair to assume that the majority of the audience found their way to Cate’s music through her previous album, Mug Museum, which was released in 2013 and received critical acclaim and vast media coverage that included a feature and interview in revered publication, The Gentlewoman, which catapulted her profile in the indie music scene. Once the opening song is complete the band transition seamlessly into a faultless rendition of ‘Love is Not Love’, and ‘Wonderful.’ The natural chemistry between Cate and her band means that there are no errors in the playing and so, the tone of the performance reaches high levels early.
There’s little chat from Cate throughout the fifty minute set. When she does engage with the crowd she comments on her surprise on how warm Dublin is, “It’s almost tropical”, she says in her wonderfully soft Welsh accent. Sometimes a musician’s silence in such situations frustrates or sways a crowd, but there is something about Cate’s presence and personality that veers between a shyness and a focus on her music and playing. Then, the moment arrives when Le Bon taps into some older material with the infectious bass line of ‘No God’, captivating the room and causing a uniform of shoulder shimmying across the room. ‘I’m A Dirty Attic’ and ‘Are You With Me Now’ again serve as reminders of how diverse Le Bon’s catalogue is – she can be simultaneously stern with punchy drums and guitar one moment and then seamlessly flow into an inclusive and soft melody the next.
Cate finishes her warmly received show with an endearing encore. She returns to the stage and performs a song accompanied solely by her guitar. The song is a love story, an unrequited one. Le Bon pines for a man that resembles George Harrison wearing gold boots and owes her $2, she tells her friend that if he should cross paths with the her Brooklyn inhabiting crush to let him know that she’ll be in the park waiting for him. When she finishes the song the atmosphere in the overheated venue is one of unquestionable affection for Cate Le Bon’s enchanting lyrics, music and personality. As she walks off the stage, a man standing nearby turns to his friend — as the crowd collect themselves and make plans for the rest of their evening — and says earnestly, “I wouldn’t mind going for a drink with Cate.”
Cate Le Bon photographed for State by Lucy Foster.