Tuesday 19 October 2010

Soap & Skin at Union Chapel 18 October 2010

The Union Chapel is the perfect setting for this gig. The rows of pews, the light streaming in through the giant stained glass window above the stage are all elements that add to the atmosphere.

We are here to see Anja Plaschg, aka Soap & Skin, tonight assisted by an ensemble of various stringed instruments, a cornet and a backing singer who stands at the rear of the stage.

The lights dim and the musicians take their places. Plaschg pootles stiffly onto the stage, her hair wild, her movements apparently hampered by her tight costume.

She starts dead centre, her voice a desolate wail. The backing singer tracks her voice and everything seems fine.

Plaschg spends much of the concert seated at a grand piano, atop which stands a laptop computer. This marriage of traditional instrumentation with modern technology causes some difficulties with the sound mix, as the amplified voices tend to distort with reverb and are at odds the dark wooden saw of the cellos.

Anja Plaschg seems very on edge almost from the beginning, refusing to look at or acknowledge the audience and fidgeting in her seat.

As the evening progresses, it becomes clear that Plaschg is barely holding herself together and is struggling to control her emotions. In a cracked voice she dedicates a song to her father, and she appears to be in tears as she sings it.

The highlights tonight are for me (unusually) two instrumentals. During the first, the stage and audience are gradually enveloped in a creeping pall of dry ice. The second sees the stage bathed in blood red light as Plaschg hammers at the lower register of her piano, the notes rumbling like thunder, her arms stiff as sticks as she chops down on the keys ever, ever faster until she resembles a clockwork automaton.

Towards the end of the set Plaschg’s temperament gets the better of her again. During the song ‘Spiracle’, with its “When I was a child...” motif, she breaks down completely and has to stop, at one stage abandoning her piano to solicit a hug from her fellow singer.

She gathers herself for a final number delivered from centre stage, her eyes black fissures in a pale lit face. Her arms, flail, flap and mimic flying. It’s incredibly powerful.

After she leaves, the crowd stomp and holler for more until she returns to perform one last number unaccompanied. She clearly does not want to do this, but gig etiquette demands an encore.

It has been an extraordinary performance, which is obviously emotionally devastating for the performer. I’ve not seen an act wrestle with their demons quite so painfully since Soko. I hope that Anja Plaschg can conquer them.

1 comment:

Godlike Genius said...

Sounds intriguing...