When faced with great expectations, some acts sink and some swim. Being lauded all over the shop, appearing on a plethora of ‘Ones to watch for 2013′ lists and playing ‘The Great Northern Songbook’ in The Ulster Hall with the Ulster Orchestra backing her hasn’t done Katharine Philippa any harm. In fact, it seems to have focused her creativity, earlier gigs showcasing a wider spectrum of piano-based music genres and mixed emotions. Tonight’s sold-out closing gig of the Out To Lunch festival is more pointed, going straight to the heart of what she’s about, maybe because she is time-limited to five songs.
It’s all about her voice really. Piano accompaniment is sparse and well-judged, not drowning the vocals but letting them stand mostly alone, dripping with sadness. It’s a heavy voice, full of knowledge that is painful to the one who knows it. A cover of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’ becomes more heartbreaking, an already sad song charting new depths, faithful but including such new yet somehow obvious tiny r ‘n’ b vocal licks that you marvel Lana didn’t think of them first. When the piano does ‘kick in’ it’s almost a Philip Glass soundtrack, discordant and discomfiting intervalled with movements similar to a Romantic-era composition, plumbing the depths only to rise to romantic ecstasy.
Daughter take the stage amidst quite a bit of what can only be described as “faffing”. Audience enthusiasm dims slightly and the undesirable label of a band who doesn’t connect is nearly stamped upon them until guitarist Haefeli looks up and shamefacedly jokes “we are professionals!”. Tension broken, the three-piece begin the brand of indie folk they’re becoming famous for. If you’re expecting niceness though, this may not be the place for you. The songs are full of a young person’s concerns, an unsurprising focus on heartbreak followed by an almost medical examination of the heart rotting in the chest. Modern twists on the traditional abound freely in the lyrics, the eloquent disgust of ‘Landfill’ beginning “throw me in the landfill, don’t think about the consequences” and imagery of abortion running throughout their set, with repeated mentions of meaningless nighttime encounters and subtly abusive relationships with Candles’ “You’re too old to be so shy, he says to me so I stay the night”.
Despite this, the whole thing is amazingly pretty. Elena Tonra has a haunting voice, not prone to huge outpourings of anger but instead recounting events as a long-forgotten ghost would. Beginning as a solo acoustic artist you can see how the songs were formed, but it’s undeniable that after a while they do carry a certain similarity which is where Igor Haefeli and Remi Aguilella come into their own, Haefeli adding depth to songs sometimes with nothing more than a few subtle touches of his electric guitar strings. Other times he’s all out, white noise being achieved by savagely bowing his guitar. Remi’s drums have a power accented by the absence of a bass, primal thudding drums traditionally adding to the second half of a song with final song ‘Home’ being enlivened with whipcrack rimshots on the drumkit, an addictive sound. And they leave, Elena shyly giggling at the warmth from the audience, a humble response seemingly at odds with their songs, but all the more likeable for that. Expectations not only met then, but exceeded.