GIG REVIEW: Brooke Bentham, St. Pancras Old Church, London
A cathartic midweek church service
How often is it that a support act outshines the headliner? Certainly not a common occurrence and I can count on one hand instances where this may be the case or at the very least running it close.
Wednesday night in St. Pancras Old Church was a case of the latter with Brooke Bentham’s bassist, Mathilde Bataillé, producing a captivating four-song (and one poem) set in her own stead. Almost the star of the show, but not quite – after all, Bentham can call upon a growing catalogue of solid indie songs to more than justify her standing as headliner.
Bataillé – a French singer-songwriter based in south-east London – it must be said, had the 100-strong congregation hanging on to her every word and movement. Joined by a violinist and double bass player, Bataillé delicately plucked her electric guitar sat on a stool and delivered love songs which dripped with longing and anguish.
With her bleached blonde hair and black indie clothing making her look like the love child of Phoebe Bridgers and Kurt Cobain, Bataillé’s performance was extremely intense delivering clearly sung lyrics with the with the conviction of Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin over the carefully arranged string instrumentation.
Bataillé is clearly not the most natural of performers, squirming and huffing her way through the short set as if she would rather be anywhere else, but, strangely, it’s this uncomfortable disposition amplified by her fixed stares away from the audience, which makes her so watchable. Some of her singing was reminiscent of Jeff Buckley and the poem she recited called to mind Arlo Parks.
Her sparse candid songs fitted in perfectly with the church setting though the intensity of her performance made it a bit of relief that the set didn’t drag on, good as the music is, the morose nature of it has the potential to exhaust. Certainly an act to keep an eye on and, as Bentham implored her bandmate later on, one who has an album’s worth of songs waiting to be unleashed.
Clearly a talented act in her own right, it was almost disconcerting to see Bataillé slot in relatively anonymously as part of Bentham’s full band, though her role grew as the main set wore on. The two acts were chalk and cheese. The intense, almost ethereal music served up alongside often gritty unbending vocals from Bataillé gave way to a tight band dynamic lifted by Bentham’s pleasing vocals.
The mood was starkly different too. The heavy atmosphere generated by Bataillé was replaced by Bentham’s assertiveness and gentle humour even if the soul-searching themes of each artists’ songs were similar.
Bentham fixed a power pose at the centre of the stage, with Bataillé and the other guitarist flanking her and occasionally providing backing vocals. As can often be the case in such venues, the drumming got a little lost in the venue but it wasn’t enough to detract from the music.
Bentham rattled through all four tracks off recent EP, Caring – one of the best EPs released this year so far – as well an assorted collection of earlier efforts. With only a classic rock band set-up, some of the quirks of the EP, like the horn section in ‘Over and Over’ were missing but Bentham’s fellow electric guitarist did an admirable job in providing unique licks in their absence.
Bentham apologised for the fact it was her first full band show in over one-and-a-half years, and there was a little rustiness in the performance, but overall her intimate indie songs fared well. ‘Stop’ from the Caring EP was a highlight, as were the rousing ‘Over and Over’ and final song, ‘Control’ which ended the set triumphantly.
A slow transition from the tasteful lighting on stage to the stark main lights of the church had the crowd baying for an encore, prompting Bentham to peep from a side door and confirm that she has no more songs.
You can’t say that Bentham, or Bataillé for that matter, outstayed their welcome. A triumphant return for Bentham on an evening full of confessions shared with an appreciative following.