“Songwriting is hard. But it’s the best thing I can do in my life,” Lucy Rose Parton admits in a moment of candour from the stage of the Empire Music Hall on Thursday. It must be difficult, to pour out your innermost thoughts and feelings, put them into words and music and then perform them to rooms full of strangers. Not knowing their reaction, not knowing whether they accept you or reject you or even whether they understand what you’re telling them. Perhaps it’s better if they don’t understand fully, it preserves some intimacy, doesn’t leave you exposed so much. Half way through the set Lucy Rose covers her eyes from the glare of the lights and peers into the crowd to check our response, to gauge whether we’re being entertained. More importantly to gauge whether we’re feeling something of what she’s feeling. We are. She continues, apparently satisfied.
The evening’s proceedings are kicked off by Billie Marten as the crowd slowly trickles in. Marten is a young songstress with a promising talent. She still has that shyness on the stage that betrays her inexperience, and her delicate vocals are perhaps too fragile for the chatty crowd: she starts to stumble under the deluge of background noise ironically during the song “Heavy Weather“, one of her best. The last of her six songs is “Bird”, her current single.
Jake Isaac comes to the stage, and just starts singing a capella, which is enough to get the attention of the crowd. This is Jake’s umpteenth appearance in Belfast this year, having supported Ella Eyre in the spring and Lucy Rose herself during CQAF week. He also starts off quietly, perhaps reflectively, but after a few songs, he jumps down into the audience to perform a song unplugged. He admits to having had a rough week, but soon he is smiling and encouraging the audience to sing along with him. The power of music.
At a quarter to 10pm, Lucy Rose and her band of four travelling musicians (they have been on the road for weeks, barely finishing the festival season before leaving for a tour of Germany and the Low Countries) appear. With a smile and a wave, she embarks on her 15-song set (+2), playing mostly from new album “Work It Out“, although she does slip “Lines” from her debut album into the initial part of her set.
The start of the set is pop-y, with the excellent “Till The End” getting the audience nodding along. With “Nebraska” things go introspective: “I’m walking on thin ice to find who I really am”. The band — two guitarists (with Lucy Rose also playing guitar and occasionally keys), a drummer and a keyboard/percussionist — do an excellent job blending their sounds to be faithful to the studio recordings. They work through “For You“, “She’ll Move“, “Like An Arrow” (another catchy pop song), “Shelter” and “Shiver“. “Shiver” is a beautiful lament of a broken relationship, and clearly a significant song: it appears on both her albums. It is during these latter songs that Lucy Rose pauses and checks for our reaction. The final song of this slow-paced section is “My Life“. Sometimes during gigs you get the sensation that the singer is speaking directly to you: it is just them, the spotlight, the stage, and you. Everything else just flies away, and you experience that connection. Those are the best gigs. Tonight was one of those.
Building to a climax, the band break into “Middle Of The Bed” (an oldie) and the wonderfully HAIM-esque and danceable, “Köln“. “Bikes“, another old song, leads into “Our Eyes” and finally, “Sheffield“, a great collection of upbeat songs that really set the evening off well. Both band and audience are dancing along. The evacuation of the stage at the end of the song is barely necessary, with the crowd very keen for more, and clearly the band are too. Perhaps the seasoned Lucy Rose fans are now expecting the traditional rendition of “Night Bus“, but Lucy Rose apologises to them, and also to the new fans who might not have yet heard it. Instead, she plays the title song of new album “Work It Out“, and closes with favourite “Red Face“. It has been a very well-crafted set, and with Jake Isaac acting as guitar tech, a set which has ebbed and flowed as it should, without awkward pauses for tuning. A thoroughly enjoyable evening, and we’re all left hoping that Lucy Rose braves the ferry to come back to Belfast soon. Paul Woods, GiggingNI.com