Sardonic Pop Delights…
With three studio albums under her belt, the choice of tunes to perform live for Princess Chelsea has become much more trickier. Cuts from new outing The Loneliest Girl would obviously be given a special showcase, but just what songs would be retrieved from the back catalogue?
Dalston itself is an interesting part of London, one in which a variety of live venues offer up a choice of more eclectic acts than you’d get in more central locations. A street festival is already under way this weekend, which provides a nice vibe on the long and winding trek up to the Shackwell Arms (which has two bonus points out of the gate: good food and cheap drinks).
Pre-gig, the strains of title track ‘The Loneliest Girl’ can be heard during soundcheck as Chelsea and gang shape up. Meanwhile, the pub’s PA throws in a few quirky musical surprises, including OMD’s garage electronica take on ‘Waiting For The Man’ and the strident ‘I Bow Down’ from Pixx.
Support act Alan Power is a surprisingly entertaining act. Although it’s just one bloke and an acoustic guitar (which is usually cause for concern), he’s got a powerful voice and a knack for heartfelt tunes. But it’s his between-song banter that really endears him to the audience. His dour delivery calls to mind the likes of Jack Dee as he admonishes the audience for their “tepid applause”. At one point he stops a song “I can’t remember the lyrics for this one, so let’s end it there” (Before fishing out a sheet of paper from this jacket “Oh here they are…”).
The Shackwell Arms doesn’t have a particularly large stage with odd little arches peppered about the back wall. The result of this is that Chelsea and co. have to squeeze themselves into some very odd spaces to all fit in.
The set kicks off with the crystal melodies of ‘Machines Of Loving Grace’, culled from her 2012 debut album Lil’ Golden Book. Featuring some deft xylophone work picking out the tune, the band gradually fill in as the song progresses.
Chelsea then takes centre stage for ‘The Pretty Ones’, the first to be performed from the new album. The steady percussive beat of the song is matched by stark bass notes as Chelsea discussing the business of weaponising beauty (“it may seem superficial/but this is how the world spins ’round”). There’s also a bass-heavy rendition of ‘I Love My Boyfriend’, a song which Chelsea gives a particularly powerful vocal effort on.
Chelsea switches to bass guitar for the next song (“a real famous song by me…”) before engaging in a duet with Jonathan Bree on ‘The Cigarette Duet’ (possibly her most famous song – and currently topping 40 million YouTube views). The contrasting vocal elements still give the song an engaging quality and it’s a tune that gets an enthusiastic response from the packed venue.
“This song is for Jesus” announces Chelsea before the sober tones of ‘No Church On Sunday’. Live, the track is bolstered by some muscular drum fills. A slight mic mishap when Chelsea knocks the stand is corrected by a kind audience member. It’s all part of the evening’s entertainment!
Jonathan Bree takes over on bass duties for the next song as Chelsea pauses to address the audience: “It’s a good job this is sold out so there’s enough people, because you can’t have too many people…” With a wink to the audience, Chelsea adds: “let’s get some sardonic wit going” before launching into, of course, ‘Too Many People’ – the perky number from her 2015 album The Great Cybernetic Depression.
Chelsea returns to her debut album for the next two songs, a wistful ‘Yulia’ and a playful ‘Monkey Eats Bananas’ – a song that, as Chelsea informs us, “I wrote when I was 16 – and I then finished when I was 22.”
Then it’s straight back into The Loneliest Girl for a superbly received ‘Wasting Time’. Meanwhile, an emphatic ‘I Miss My Man’ takes on a surprisingly passionate drive to it. The unlikeliest contender for a live outing from the new album has to be the sepulchral ‘Respect The Labourers’. But here the song is given an oddly affecting emotional punch.
“I haven’t played this one live before” comments Chelsea before delivering a heartfelt ‘When The World Turns Grey’, which has a wistful reedy sound to it (which also seems to demonstrate what weird sounds you can conjure from a guitar).
There’s an undeniable charm to a Princess Chelsea live show with an emphasis on fun. Having plenty of good tunes also helps – and in that department the New Zealand musician delivered in style.