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Keren Ann @ Le National

Posted by Trixie / June 9, 2007

Though most everyone there was really young, the Keren Ann show at Le National felt like a very adult affair. Partly it was the hushed grandeur of the venue itself; it was also the rapt and just-correctly-appreciative audience; mostly it was the stately, self-assured professionalism of the singer-songwriter herself. She is based out of Paris and New York, and Israel, and this cosmopolitan polyglot in the chic black dress and dark bangs and with a focused and unflappable and gracious air could control her hushed but strong voice perfectly and play her various guitars and harmonica with precision and gamely entertain with amusing between-song banter and could just generally, and in fact, hit all the right notes.

Keren Ann is obviously meant to be doing what she is doing. She is one of those songwriters and performers who seems perfectly suited for the niche she has found for herself, and delivers admirable results.

Her music—basically an adult contemporary folk-pop—is sophisticated and satisfying. It is smoky cabaret bar inspired, often simple seeming, but in a way that cloaks its complexity behind a spot-on delivery and orchestration. The songs are intricate and avoid predictable directions, while at the same time feeling classic and inevitable in the style of the jazzy-folk chanteuse.

These songs are studied and melancholy, often little wisps of a thing, but surprisingly rich; her voice, urbane, evocative, and vulnerably rasping when in lullaby mode, the perfect accompaniment.

Ann understands how to create an intimate, yearning, wistful tone matched with a certain stripped-down nonchalance that is very Parisian; her New York influences show through with a sprinkling of a tougher, clever, syncopated-percussive stance.

It really seems only fair to give Ann her proper due by stressing how lovely, pulled-together, and entirely pleasing her set was. I feel that the only objections are hackneyed ones, and seem critical for critique’s sake: i.e. that it’s all just a little too perfect, too modulated, too controlled—systematically foreclosing on the raw or wild or surprising or quirky or inspired. And yet, well…there is that.

Certainly it seems unfair to complain that she is too good at what she does. Part of why I could not personally be swept away by her work is what she has chosen to excel in, which, as I described above, is undeniably the adult-contemo field. Despite all sorts of nice touches, the overall effect can just be pretty boring.

And yet, if Keren Ann’s music won’t break your heart, set you on fire, or otherwise move you, it does provide the perfect soundtrack for those moments when you choose to imagine the contour and colour of life to be misty, muted and softly idealized. It’s a well-calibrated break from the things that move us.

The show at Le National seemed like one of those moments out of time, suspended in a deliberate ambience of wistful, pleasant, perfectly controlled affect.

Photos from Flickr user niv tishbi

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