Live review: Keaton Henson, Freud Museum, London (18/02/13)

20 Feb

These days, a gig is pretty standard. You know you’ll walk in (after queuing for a short eternity), show your tickets and be ushered towards the bar. You know that there will be a lot of people who surge forward as the music starts up. The band will come on stage and they’ll say hello to the crowd. After all, it’s just another crowd. They’ll play for an hour, finish on a high and do an encore or three. In all honesty they’re not being themselves – they’re playing for hundreds of adoring fans who just want to hear those two or three famous songs, if they’re lucky.

Not so with Keaton Henson. Keaton is a notorious recluse – he spends his days smoking cigarettes and leaving the butts on his windowsill somewhere in London. Not only is he a musician, but an artist too. His dislike of being seen in public is infamous and he rarely gives an interview, let alone a performance. So, when invited to see him perform at the Freud Museum in London, naturally I was intrigued as to how the show would go. His latest album, Birthdays, is wonderful – more of Keaton’s soft yet abrupt honesty about relationships, life and everything in between.

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My friend Craig actually introduced me to Keaton Henson, so obviously I had no choice but to go to the show with him (I kid, it’s always better to go to gig with someone who loves the artist at least as much, if not more, than you do). He’s actually a resident of my home county, so I decided to take him to Meatliquor pre-gig, which went down very well. Significantly better than the Wetherspoons next to Baker Street underground we stumbled into at about 11pm. I got hit on by a tramp. ‘Nuff said really (about the pub, NOT about the kind of men I attract. I hope…)

Anyway. The Freud Museum is a tiny place, tucked away in North London and surrounded by residential housing. This was the first clue that this would not be the kind of gig that I’m used to. However, the setting could not have been more perfect. Walking up the carpeted stairs to a small room, it felt like I was actually invading the privacy of Keaton’s home – the setting was just such a private and intimate space, which fits his music to a T. There was no standing – about 80 seats were crammed into a tiny room, with an even smaller stage at the front, and with just a couple of lights and speakers adorning the room.

The support act, Lowpines, certainly set the mood. Their set was very bare bones – just the both of them on stage running through their low-fi set; in fact half way through their set the lead singer commented “we weren’t expecting such a tiny stage… we left the Marshall stacks in the van”. Quite. Their music consisted of slow-strumming, dreamy vocals, all placed within a pop melody. In a darkened room, their music was mesmerising and the band work incredibly well live. Give Me A Horse was a particular hit with the audience.

After a brief interlude, a cellist appears by the side of the tiny stage, and the lights dim. After playing a beautiful piece (Bach doncha know), Keaton slips on stage. He doesn’t place himself on a stool – in fact, from the middle of the room, I can hardly see him. After the opening song he mutters, “God, there’s a lot of you”: ironic, as this is the tiniest gig I have ever been to. However, his stage fright doesn’t show in his voice. On record he is soft and almost pained at times, and he is no different live. However, he is one of those artists that brings a whole new meaning to the music in person. His voice from time to time is very reminiscent of Conor Oberst, and hearing him perform live is no less than stunning.

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A mix of old and new songs are played, and by the third song there are people in tears – one lady actually leaves the room after she bursts out crying. Keaton’s music does that to you: he reminds you that no matter how quiet and alone you seem, everyone can relate to the highs and lows of love found in his music. At times he was even funny – he introduced his cellist as Ren Ford and promptly followed this introduction with “he’s a prick”. Perhaps it was funny because it was unexpected. But I think it was more due to the fact that not only can people identify with his music, but with his kind of flippant humour too. For a recluse prone to panic attacks, Keaton Henson certainly knows how to capture the attention of his fans.

Numerous songs from Birthdays get an airing, including Lying to You and 10am Gare de Nord, all of which are greeted with smiles from the crowd and then tears as his voice softly tears through the room. Any anger in his music is communicated via the feedback from his guitar, and it works perfectly. All of Keaton Henson’s current live dates are sold out, but be sure that if his music speaks to you in any way on record, then investing in a ticket to see him live is something you won’t regret. And if you haven’t heard Keaton Henson yet? Then listen to one my faves below.

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