Wednesday, 12 October 2016

1,007 AURORA, Xamvolo, Oxford O2 Academy 2, Tuesday 11th October 2016

From the Growling Rock Behemoth of Minneapolis to the Sweetly Chirruping Pipistrelle of Stavanger; let it not be said that my Autumn Dance Card does not at least have some light and shade contrast this year! So tonight it’s off to Oxford for Aurora, a young Norwegian songstress whose debut album “All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend” is an extraordinarily accomplished and fully-formed work for such a young singer (19 on release; 20 now), merging elements of electronica, hushed Irish-tinged balladry and even mainstream pop to produce a unique, sweeping and atmospheric work. Maybe not my usual cup of tea, but for me elements of the widescreen reach of fellow Scandinavians Mew and The Kissaway Trail, and even Iceland’s Sigur Ros are also prevalent, hence my enthusiasm. I’m also not the only fan in the family; my daughter Kasey loves it too and constantly asks for “the butterfly lady record” (a reference to the album cover design) in the car!

At 7, however, Kasey is too young for tonight (plus it’s a school night anyway), so I flew solo again, leaving early as Oxford is mental for parking, particularly Cowley … Luckily I found street parking nearby, and wandered in just after 7 to be directed upstairs; yup, tonight we’re in the smaller but better sight-lined old Zodiac room! Already busy and full of a predominantly young female crowd, I took my spot near the front, stage right, and waited it out. Support Xamvolo and his band arrived prompt at 8; the man himself was a trench-coated and dark John Lennon-sunglassed individual, backed by a band playing seriously old school blue-eyed jazz/soul which wouldn’t have been out of place in Cottonmouth’s “Harlem Paradise” club in the excellent “Luke Cage” Netflix series, while the man himself dialled through the octaves on his old school radio mic. Good singer – although I suspect not as good as he thinks he is – but thin material of a genre which admittedly doesn’t appeal, so I found his set a bit of a chore. “Who’s excited for Aurora tonight?” he intoned in a seductive late night voice, “she’s gonna be si-i-iiiiicck…” Am I the only one who, on hearing that, still thinks she’ll be unwell?

Kept my spot as the place filled up, then Aurora’s band took the stage prompt at 9, Aurora herself on last after a short instrumental intro, all pre-Raphaelite part-braided tumbling hair, Rapunzel princess dress and big black fuck-off hiking boots. “Black Water Lilies” was a lovely piano-embellished opener, Aurora holding a lengthy note perfectly and singing with her hands as much as with her haunting, almost Irish-inflected keening voice, her hand gestures sweeping and swooping a la Kate Bush. “Winter Bird” was a baroque and medieval madrigal enlivened by a tough and imposing chorus, and “In Boxes” a more upbeat, joyous march with Aurora now indulging in some Kristin Hersh-like staccato movements.

“The architecture in Oxford is magical – I felt like Ron Weasley!” Aurora remarked, recalling a walk around the city this afternoon, to cheers and amusement from the audience. Indeed, when she (often) spoke she was an engaging and delightful – and invariably funny – raconteur and host, revelling in a young fan’s first concert tonight, gushing over some fan art and an origami dragon (“is this the bird that brings babies? Oh, its’ a dragon…!”) handed to her, and continuously praising the, “good energy, people of this room!” Often going off on weird fantasy-related tangents and not able to finish a coherent… a coherent… erm, you get the idea, but this all added to her slightly “away with the fairies” charm. However, her actual performance was flawless; “Warrior”  was a tough and strident Kissaway Trail stomp, an acoustic guitar and voice-only “Animal Soul” (“it’s about… you will know, you will feel it in your belly…” erm, OK then…!) was as beautiful as it was bleak and desolate, and “Under The Water” was a dissonant drama, all seething and pounding rhythm. However the best was saved for last; a superb soaring vocal performance drove the widescreen sweep of “Running With The Wolves”, and set closer “Conqueror” was a celebratory tub-thumping stomp which saw Aurora throwing shapes with gay abandon, indulging in some Sioux-alike high kicks in the process, before taking a bow with the band at its’ conclusion.

A slightly incongruous and elegiac encore of “Eyes Of A Child” brought a nonetheless splendid 1 hour 20 performance to a close; another bow, then the roadie handed out set-lists so I got myself sorted. Yay! Then, after a short wait, patience was rewarded as Aurora appeared for a signing stint behind the merch stand, so I strode quickly forward and got the list signed for Kasey! I also informed Aurora that she’d usurped One Direction as my daughter’s favourite singer  (to an arms-aloft, “Yes!” response from herself!), and that I thought tonight was an excellent show, she was delightfully potty onstage, Jonsi’s mad little sister, and I chivalrously kissed her offered hand then departed for a difficult headachey drive home. A wonderfully engaging and enchanting evening from a singular voice and talent, and I’ll certainly be back – next time hopefully with Kasey in tow!

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