Kimbra at The Tivoli
Fortitude Valley, Brisbane
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
May 15th, 2012
Watching 22-year-old Kimbra Johnson onstage, it’s remarkably easy to forget that she is, in the grand showbiz scheme of things, a relative newbie to the worlds of music and live performances. Though her star is rapidly ascending internationally, thanks largely to the unanticipated and phenomenal overseas success of her duet with Gotye, Kimbra remains resolutely herself onstage.
She still dons one-of-a-kind frocks, bounces around exuberantly dancing or bashing her tamborine against her thigh, and she still unleashes that tornado of a voice with full ferocity. She’s further honed her stagecraft, insofar as she now makes full use of the stage at her disposal, confidently strutting from one end to the other, but her truest calling card – that strong, supple, soaring voice – remains intact and it is, despite some sound hiccups, as arrestingly powerful as ever tonight.
When she was last in Brisbane, back in late 2011, Kimbra headlined the Spiegeltent as part of the city’s annual Brisbane Festival and she proved herself to be a visually arresting and vocally compelling live performer. Ever invested in the artistry and visual impact of her shows, her flights of fanciful whimsy remain and they have, quite wonderfully, been given fuller and more expansive expression on this current tour. Her aesthetic vision is nothing if not ambitious and fully realised, extending as it does to even to the outfits her band wears and the way the stage is dressed.
The band appears before she does, her two backing singers clad in tie-dyed, hooded capes and the rest of the band dressed in outfits boasting complimentary colours and a distinctively urban-influenced style. The only other Australian performer to rival her in this regard is Sarah Blasko, a musician who also invests much thought, time and effort in the visual aesthetic of her live performances.
Kimbra herself eventually slips onstage to enormous applause, dressed in a metallic dress with a bubble skirt and wearing towering black wedge-heels. About halfway through the show, she momentarily disappears, leaving the band to jam onstage until she re-emerges wearing a stunning confection of a dress, the design of which appears to be based on a blooming red rose. The bodice is sheer and boasts occasional bursts of delicate red glass beading. It’s also festooned with appliqué red flowers that trail across her torso and down her arms. The skirt itself seems to reference the transition a rose makes from a tightly gathered bud to a fully opened flower and boasts layer upon layer of different red fabrics, all stitched together in haphazard lines, as if to represent layers of petals, the whole thing impressively supported by an explosion of white tulle underneath.
It is, as anybody lucky enough to have seen Kimbra perform live knows, an ensemble that is completely and unutterably her. She is as much a performance artist as a musician and what makes her such a delight onstage is that very trait. She is clearly as invested in making as great a visual impact on her audiences as she does vocally and she’s nothing if not a vocal dynamo. Also worth noting is her irrepressible joie de vivre.
The setlist for tonight’s show sees her run through most of the songs on her ARIA-winning debut, Vows, as well as a couple of rarities and b-sides. Despite the fact that the band is often so loud it unfortunately swamps her stentorian vocals, she is never anything less than a whirling, flailing blur of unencumbered energy and joy, bounding about the stage, grinning broadly and shaking her tamborine.
Clutching that instrument, her opening number was ‘Limbo,’ which then lead into a trio of three of her album’s most impressive songs: the lamentation of ‘Good Intent,’ the swaggering domestic fantasy life of ‘Settle Down’ and the lovelorn anthem, ‘Two Way Street.’ From there, the hits keep coming and the audience enthusiastically rolls with the punches: ‘Marigold’ segues into the aching ‘Old Flame,’ which Kimbra prefaces by asking if anybody in the hitherto vocally appreciative audience “has ever had their heart broken.”
The crowd, for once, is a bit on the quiet side. A few people whistle and holler, but the response is generally surprisingly low-key. “No? Oh, okay then, so I guess it was just me and I’m singing this to myself,” she cedes, smiling wryly before lowering her head and clearly drawing on that familiar feeling of abandonment and loneliness for what is one of her most impressive vocals of the night.
Another highlight is her rendition of Nina Simone’s ‘Plain Gold Ring.’ Performed with only minimal accompaniment from her crack band, black-and-white photographic images of Simone flash on the screens behind Kimbra as she surrenders herself fully to the moment. On an evening during which she rarely stood still and when, if she did, her hands motioned busily as she sang, she was for once almost entirely motionless. Her head was bowed for much of the song, its personal meaning to her profoundly apparent in her passionate, impassioned performance of it. Similarly moving and emotionally resonant was her duet, with Sam Lawrence, on the sparse, aching ‘Wandering Limbs.’
Not surprisingly, she saved her best-known song, ‘Cameo Lover,’ for last. When it came, her band launched into the opening notes and the entire crowd surged forward, their collective energy unmistakable and surely affirming for Kimbra herself, who stood behind the microphone, her hand above her eyes as she attempted to survey the audience and see us for herself.
As the song’s final strains played, she replicated one of the most memorable moments from the song’s video as a mass of colourful confetti rained down on the sold-out crowd. Though they screamed loudly and clapped, she did not return for an encore. Perhaps, in the end, the soaring chorus of ‘Cameo Lover’ said it all, with Kimbra exhorting the audience to “open up your hearts, open up your hearts to me.” It was something we did all too willingly and her performance, full of heart and spirit, rewarded it in spades.
Kimbra, supported by Sam Lawrence and Daniel Merriweather, heads to WA to play Hay Park, Bunbury on Saturday 19 May (tickets onsale at 2012.gtm.net.au/) and Metro City, Perth on Monday 21 May (tickets onsale at www.oztix.com.au/).