Friday, May 13, 2011

Nimble round the neck

Meaghan Burke, Dead Western.
Vienna Rhiz. 04may11.

Despite being a native of New York, Meaghan Burke is, as a result of living in Vienna for a number of years, being asked to represent the city’s pop scene at the Popfest Wien free festival. This is the warm-up and it is clear that the anomaly is two-fold: her being merely an adopted daughter, but also that the music she makes is only on the barest of nodding terms with ‘pop’.

That said there are hi-jinks in her business, an embroidered, fresh-faced charm; the manner in which she beams, sporting the ivory being a facial equivalent of Doris Day greeting the day’s business with a windmill slap of a thigh.

Yet she marries this innocence with regular dips into Diamanda Galas style melodrama, the voice flitting and swooping like a swallow, elasticising from trills to treacle. The other act this evening, Dead Western, do something a little similar in that respect, but their singer Troy Mighty’s facial mugging whilst exaggerating his vocal depth only succeeds in grating rather than beguiling. Meaghan Burke’s singing style feels much more natural, and it thus follows that her lyrics about bed bugs and such pass under the radar of irritation.

What might not beat the radar for some listeners is that this is very much a voice and cello performance, with no looping and no gradation. There is not even a reliance on heavy bowing to layer a warming underbelly, the neck of her instrument more often plucked or beaten.

Yet despite this plain set-up, the sound is agile and lively, moving across smoky blues, nimble jazz and scattergun torch song and back with barely a blink.



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