Review: Melody Gardot

Review: Melody Gardot
(Royal Festival Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 15th 2009, review by
Alison Hoblyn)

Melody Gardot’s lateness antagonised the Royal Festival Hall audience.
But Melody Gardot – gradually – won over writer
Alison Hoblyn.

There was unrest in the Festival Hall on Sunday night. We’d been waiting over 25 minutes for Melody Gardot to set foot onstage and there’d already been three rounds of slow handclapping. I heard grumblings of ‘Call her Untrained Melody..’ from around me. The same MC who’d told us she would be 10 minutes late now re-appeared and began to waffle. ‘Is she ready!?’ someone called – and at last the lights went down.

Given the circumstances, it was an unfortunate beginning. Melody and her band, picked out by a follow spot, walked in through the audience – her voice singing into the blackness -accompanied by more handclapping. Was this part of the performance, or just a continuation of the audience disapproval? One doesn’t always get answers,up in the distant darkness of the balcony.

Her slender figure, dressed in black, gained the stage. She knelt down, centre front. There she began to pick up handfuls of sand, sifting it through her fingers- for what seemed like aeons – and then writing in sand on the floor in front of her. Maybe this would have been a theatrical and reflective start – if we hadn’t been waiting so long. At last, she rose to her feet and in that familiar clear voice began to sing a capella – a gospel type song, stamping her left foot as a percussive accompaniment. Certainly, given her medical history, she appeared not in the least frail. And, from the moment she began, she had you trusting – if not quite forgiving. Yet.

Her second number was lit to throw dramatic silhouettes of the band onto the back wall. She somehow seemed to be giving a message: ‘I, Melody Gardot, am not a packaged easy listening artist.’ She began at the piano, hopping up to kneel on the stool in order to pluck the strings of the Steinway, her attenuated form writhing on the back wall. She and the band were swaying, improvising. Jazz. Suddenly, agreeably, I found myself in New York, I was listening to the traffic moving and hooting through the city.

By the time she began ‘The Rain’ she was redeemed. At last her voice had come to the fore. And it is a very particular voice – I think there is no point in trying to compare her to other artists. There is a dimension of depth; the depth not vocal – for her voice is light and air-filled – but with a sense of knowing love and loss. She has this endearing way of pausing before she finishes the last consonant of a word – making a plosive fullstop. You can hear her breath, and it makes her real.

In between songs Melody talked to us of melancholy and thankfulness – maybe a bit too touchy-feely for the average male in the audience – but it felt genuine to me and scarily mature for a 24 year old. The young men in front of me were riveted however; looking down on the thatch of bright blonde hair and slim figure; no doubt about it, Melody is also good to look at. That is, as well as talented. She moved between piano, voice and two guitars – dubbed her ‘American husband and her Spanish husband’ – with ease.

Sadly, the late start meant many of her audience evacuated the auditorium before she was through. She tried to get us to sing along with ‘Who Will Comfort Me?’ – but perhaps put a few off by saying ‘If you can sing, join in and if you can’t sing………..don’t’. The encore began at 11pm. I was watching her doing a sinuous twist as the sax player (Irwin Hall) wreathed out the notes of ‘Caravan’. It was late, very late, So I understand why quite a lot of people had to leave. But they missed a real treat.

In short, I’m ready to see – and forgive her – all over again.

Alison Hoblyn is a novelist, garden writer and artist

Categories: miscellaneous

5 replies »

  1. Yes! I love her new sax player! She was amazingly vibrant on stage. The wait was a bit frustrating and a bit of a cock up but lucky because I was late arriving so it didnt bother me. I thought this was the concert of the year!! Artful and creative. The RF is always a 50/50 chance of a good show because I get bored with how artists let the room be the show and not the music. She changed the room completely. Might understand why she was l late too. I had to leave a minute with an emergency call (my wife's pregnant) and was smoking a fag outside a bit before the show I saw a woman rush out of the venue with a big medical table and a slew of men. I overheard words about her falling at soundcheck and they seemed really concerned for her health. With an artist like Melody we have to remember she is frail. Maybe more than that twist at the end of Caravan lets you know! Blinding success.

  2. What I'm being told is that Melody Gardot's medical condition means that she is subject a to sudden attacks of freezing, and that she has to rest and let them pass, andthat this is what happened on Sunday. Anyone know anything? Perhaps there's a doctor out there?

  3. I saw her in Amsterdam on monday (November 16th). You might find it interesting to know she was also late, this time 1 hour 15 min – and I read on a Belgium site she was late in Brussels on Nov. 4th. So also very curious what the cause of this is, if anyone knows anything? I'll bookmark this page and keep an eye on it…

    At least from seeing her on stage and how apologetic she was about it I didn't think her lateness was a result of any diva-esque behaviour (which some people thought, as there was a lot of booing and even a Winehouse reference when she did arrive). I didn't mind her being late, but I did mind the booing: stick to inserting a coin in a jukebox and pressing play, and keep your negative attitude out of any concerts I visit please!

    Quite a number of people left early in Amsterdam also, but my guess was that this wasn't to do with the late arrival but with the concert being very different to what was to be expected from her albums? I like the albums, but I could imagine some people expecting a more standard “pop” concert with a performance that stuck closer to the one on the albums. Turns out the albums are a really, really polished and sweet version of how she is on stage and that she is much more eccentric and untamed (or raw? for lack of better English words) than I'd expected – at times when playing piano in particular she looked almost possesed. I prefer the live version! Will definetely go see her again when she's in the country.

  4. In Amsterdam, apparently, there were major technical problems (feedback) with the sound system, which took a long time to sort out, and even reappeared briefly during the performance (as captured on a YouTube video).

  5. An Improv Jazz show – not the usual.., Jun 07, 2010

    Reviewer from Philadelphia PA
    At the Keswick in Philadelphia – June 6th 2010….
    You may have been expecting something much much different. NOt that it was bad for an improv jazz set, but gone were the wonderful vocals, the style and bluesy-vocal jazz aura of yesteryear. Instead how about a clown playing 2 saxes at the same time, an overpowering string bass and a bunch of mumbling ladedodah where once was an elegant voice. I have seen her 3 other times which were wonderful. This is nothing like her album, or anything like her website. Its was at best unexpected ( though it did get applause) – at worst – a sorry self indulgent excuse for a show, mostly overpowered by the 3 piece band, – maybe her voice is gone ( along with most of the original band ( now just 3 plus her versus 6+ before). I would expect a show like this if she were old and 50+, not young and ~ 25…… Disappointed fan……

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