Karl Blau, Live in Liverpool
A grand total of 24 people are there to greet us when we ascend the stairs at Leaf in what has to be one of the emptiest rooms we’ve seen in a quite a while. Beija Flo has the unenviable task of opening the show. As witnessed at her Getintothis Deep Cuts appearance her work is almost confessional, deeply personal yet cheeky, mischievous even, seemingly pushing at boundaries on purpose to test the listener.
This set is a much more laid back show than our previous experience, not that that slows the shock factor of the missing vagina. Really. Beija lives with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, a condition she is more than happy to talk about regardless of the shock factor. She delivers it with humour and humility. More power to her. Her music and her tales are almost otherworldly, she tells her stories with an incredible power and energy, no matter how laid back the vibe and quiet the room. Each piece is its own mini-series with a cast of its own, a quirky director and a brave colourist. The ability to deliver each piece in it’s own style is a joy to behold.
Sean Keogh took to the stage so quickly he took a few of us by surprise. His laptop sprung to life and surprised us with how electronic his set was as support to Blau. For his incredible voice, he seemed a little uncomfortable standing onstage on his lonesome. The instrumental sections of his tracks had him scratching around for something to do; we half considered giving him a phone with Solitaire running. There were times where he seemed to be willing the laptop on, applause, of which there was plenty, made him blush, bless him.
That aside, he delivered classic pop songs and synth driven snippets of joy. You can’t help but smile, his work reminded us of Erasure, Soft Cell and sound like they could soundtrack Beverly Hills Cop or an episode of Miami Vice, the original one, not that crap remake. This boy can hold a note, his songs are instantly catchy, more of this, please.
Karl Blau starts his set by tuning his guitar. By ear. This is a guitar that clearly doesn’t want to be tuned, much to the amusement of the audience. While he attempts to tune the beast he explores the local dialect, useful sayings and the like. Is right, as the locals said. Blau hails from a small town in the middle of nowhere, apparently filled with disgruntled teenagers. Before he gets started we feel a connection.
We were those small-town teens making headways to places like Sweden. Though in fairness we would have been happy with Swindon. If this small-town can produce this level of opening banter then we raise a glass to Anacortes, Washington. Blau has the stage presence of a man with many air miles and countless slots on open mic nights. Signing to Bella Union has clearly opened some doors and by the time he gets to song two the crowd in the room has swelled to a perfectly respectable size.
How I Got To Memphis gets the reaction it deserves, the choir in the audience, who were the picture of civility and good behaviour, sing along at the right moments and tap their toes as quietly as the floor allows. She Wants A Baby brought the laughs, his range of material makes for an interesting set. Perhaps foolishly, Blau opens the floor to requests, the three songs requested are blended into a medley that brings the room to a new level of stillness. His set is littered with obscure covers and songs by friends. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of plan or formal list sitting at his feet, suggesting there are hundreds of songs floating around his head to suit his voice, treacly, rich, warm and gravelly in all the right places.
This isn’t country, it’s not folk, it’s not even balladry, it’s like a pic and mix of the last 80 years of music, complete with plastic spoon to aid the selection. Part autobiographical stories, part worldly warning; one man, one guitar, one almost neglected loop pedal. This is simplicity, where the tales tell their own story, some sad, some funny, some introspective, simple as all that.
Karl regales us with a tale of woe about a ‘Traffic Violation’ gathered on his last visit to Liverpool that cost £1200 after some ‘delay’ in payment. Slow Down Joe is the perfect punchline to a tour undertaken by train. He finishes his set with a capella version of Six White Horses that sends a shiver down the collective spine. His encore starts the same way, just his voice. Its a brave choice and one that shows the breadth of his talent. This is a man who has produced a dozen albums, released two dozen more with others and runs point in a studio for yet more.
He ups the ante on the last few tracks, they are like wandering through the mind of a wonderful lunatic, he goes for it with tons of loops, two microphones, layering in additional vocals. Its jazz, soul, pop and sheer lunacy for the masses. Wonderful. We’d guess this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Karl Blau. Here’s to the open train ticket.