BY JEAN WEST
Joan Wasser of Joan As Policewoman, from across the pond in New York, had a notion of what Leith was all about before her recent visit.
The dynamic star, whose charismatic blend of art rock/pop and ingenuity has been felling audiences for more than two decades, produced firm friends and local Easter Road-based folkies, Lau’s last album.
And so, it was perhaps only fitting that the Connecticut raised chanteuse, who ran off to Brooklyn in her teens and has collaborated with creative visionaries like Antony and the Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright, should be high in the band’s curatorial consciousness when they compiled their ambitious programme for Edinburgh International Festival’s Light on the Shore.
Taking their turn at stewardship of Leith Theatre as part of an epic two weeks of maverick events at the revived civic treasure, they followed a full day’s worth of eclectic music-making with a wagon of wonders that included a majestic turn from themselves, along with vital and energetic contributions from a motley selection of global artists.
Musicians as diverse as the brilliant brass ensemble, The Whitburn Band, Egyptian experimentalist, Nadal El Shazley and techno-head turned psychedelic folk-popper, James Holden & the Animal Spirits, joined forces with, Alasdair Roberts, Brighde Chaimbeul, traditional folk singer Siobhan Miller, and unaccompanied vocal quartet Landless, to offer up a feast of talent that beat forth until the wee small hours.
The charismatic Wasser, stormed the theatre, hot on the heels of Lau, whose soaring fiddle, accordion and guitar rhythms, so rousing and uplifting, dreamy and romantic, captivated audiences at Celtic Connections earlier in the year.
Unique arrangements and an instrument they called Morag, elevated their brand of alt-folk to something sublime as bathed in heavenly blue and purple hues it felt as though we were listening to something magical from beneath the North Sea.
At times a real sense of Edinburgh came through, at others North American influence that sounded evocative of Fleet Foxes and even romantic French ballads from the accordion, as the shadowy figures distorted traditional sounds for the crowd.
This gig had something warm and cosy about it – a bubbling excitement of burgeoning possibility. There was a sense that this venue is fine exactly as it is as a community spirit, revved up during the daytime held-up for the journey.
The Whitburn Band moved in before Lau are done, fusing their cacophony of noise with a chaotic path through the crowd, building an exciting wall of sound, like a film score with beating drums, horns and trumpets. This is collaboration at it’s absolute finest.
Wasser, in her platform white space boots, and gold-halter neck jumpsuit, was no less impressive; reeling forth firm favourites like the intelligent, direct, ‘Tell Me, Tell Me, Tell Me’, before letting loose samples of her new album, the ‘darker and more pensive,’ Damned Devotion, released in February.
In one poignant song, ‘What Was It Like?’ she celebrates her adoptive father, who has died since her last album was made. A brilliant scientist, she tells us in a touching aside how he gave her the courage to follow her dreams and be herself.
Fashionable and strong, thrilling and adventurous, Wasser ploughs through her set, even incorporating a stirring version of Prince’s Kiss.
It was as though the Persevere emblem of Leith, plastered and lit-up above the stage, had been etched onto the hearts of all the performers this night, and was beating strong with musical promise.