A quick one while I’m away… no no, nothing to do with The Who, neither that I’m going to follow be Kathleen Edwards back home in Canada. Quite the opposite, I’m off concerts for a few weeks, switched on to photojournalist mode and flew to Myanmar for some documentary photography.
I shot Kathleen Edwards at the lovely Islington Academy in London last February and would be a pity not to report from her nice show.
I didn’t know much about Kathleen Edwards too. Until the day NPR First Listen pre-streamed her new album, Voyageur, at the beginning of the year. It was the same day as First Aid Kit Lion’s Roar and that helped a lot my day at work. It also showed that 2012 has started awesome for female music.
As I typically do since Spotify, when I am attracted by a nice album, and Voyageur is a very nice album, I point to the streaming site and listen to the rest of the artist’s LPs.
What doesn’t really happen everytime is that I spend the rest of the night listening on loop to 4 albums. Everything Kathleen Edwards recorded.
Then I seeked info about the tour, I discovered it was going to happen soon (how much I love London, do you want to see someone you discover it is coming next to you).
I was lucky too. The405 offered me to go and shoot her show so I didn’t even have to fuss around searching for contact and convincing a PR that I am worth a photopass.
I said yes, I was on the list and on the day of the show I jumped on my usual after work train to London Kings Cross.
It’s nice to have a stroll from the station through Angel to get to the hidden (in a shopping centre) jewel which is the Islington Academy.
Last time I was here I shot the Walkmen in an amazing gig that also marked the last time my film cameras got to work. Exciting as sad moment. I thought about celebrating it going film for once again but I didn’t.
It’s nice to arrive there early, get a drink and sit on the leather sofas in the gallery upstairs. It has a wonderful view on the stage and, before the crowd, nice and relaxing music.
Kathleen Edwards has been around for almost 10 years and is well known and appreciated in Canada, the country where she is from. I am late, that’s renowned, so I am in the process of discovering her. Her guitar is full of writings I’d love to decrypt to know more about her.
Many more people are discovering this artists too. Because part of the rumours around Kathleen latest album arrive because of the fact that it has been produced together with her partner, Justin Vernon, which is in fact Mr Bon Iver.
Some sort of news have an impact and Vernon influence can be heard in the LP.
This shouldn’t and doesn’t obscure her value. Compared to her previous albums, the songs here are less constrained into a classic structure and pulse into more familiar Bon Iver musicscapes. Her music is inspired mainly by male rockers and female folksingers. She loves north American music. The landscapes. The grasslands. The vastity.
In Voyageur there is less place to solos and music jams. Instead of riding the rock’n'roll horse, more space is given to personal songwriting, call it the Bon Iver way.
The gig is a different task. Despite it rotates mainly around the songs of Voyageur, her partner is playing the other side of the world, somewhere in New Zealand, and Kathleen is with her solid band to enjoy her very personal and important London show.
The venue is full. There’s no Bon Iver T-Shirts around. There are fans of all ages. People is here for her and I am very curious to know why.
Live Kathleen Edwards reveals first of all her love for Neil Young. The music is indebted with her fellow countryman. The guitar has that raw sound that only Neil Young has been able to play so consistently for the last 40 years and brings imagery fresh air and muddy boots in the packed academy.
Echoes of rock’n'roll remind me of Sheryl Crow‘s best period pre-Eric Clapton. Her folk vein is what you expect from Lucinda Williams if jamming with Tom Petty‘s heartbreakers.
The heartbreaking moment arrives when she introduces House Full of Empty Rooms explaining it tells of a house she had to leave and the meaning of having a place to call home.
Kathleen Edwards write nice songs and sings them sincerely. She also plays very well the rocker part on the most upbeat moments, helped by the briallant band lead by Gord Tough on guitar.
It’s clear the chemistry she has with the musicians the way they alternate for solos and duets.
When she plays A Soft Place to Land Edwards on the violin I have moved back upstairs and enjoy the perspective on the stage from the balcony.
The show for almost two hours hasn’t had weak moments and convinced every person to have been part of a key moment of an artist’s career. A very deserved moment.
I had been waiting for Oh Canada, which is maybe my favourite of her songs, but it didn’t happen and it didn’t really mind.
I walk back to my train with it playing on my earphones.
It’s a classic of concerts. Those moments between songs when the music goes quiet and the artist does something else than strumming a guitar.
To shoot or not to shoot? As usual it depends of what is happening on stage.
To a photographer it’s a less intrusive and less distracting moment. But what about the picture?
There are mainly 3 situations.
The performer stops to have a sip.
I have seen them drinking everything, from water off a plastic bottle to a whisky shot.
Commonly is beer or wine but some pure British eccentrics are used to having a cup of tea.
Personally, after several attempts, I skip the plastic bottle and anything inside a plastic cup. Plastic doesn’t please my severe aesthetic. It doesn’t add that image that makes a concert gallery different. It disturbs.
I feel more comfortable with beer, wine and whisky. They are the rock’n'roll good stuff, aren’t they? I’ll may comeback to this when I get a proper pair of images to compare.
Many artists like to chat between songs. Considering that photography has the disadvantage of not recording audio (you may have noticed that), the problem with this photos is that it must be evident what is happening otherwise it will look just a bland photo of a musician not playing or a singer not singing.
It would have been a touching image catching Edwards tears introducing the song, but it was after the third so.. go guess.
The setting/tuning moment.
I am annoyed by this. It’s a compulsory attitude for some musicians but often it breaks the moment.
I assume it isn’t a critical step considering some guitarists ignore it. To tune a guitar every other song, pausing the moment, it’s something I’d justify only to change guitar tuning. In that case it’d be appropriate get another guitar, though.
By the way, tuning happens often. I shot it hundreds of time and I can’t remember to have used one of the photos (if my memory doesn’t fail). My suggestion is that you can rest and wait for the song to start.
What can be nice, instead, is when the musician deals with the pedal effects. It’s not a rule that applies everytime but in some occasions is the cool source for that different image photoeditors are after.
Reason it that when a guitarist kneels down to manipulate the effects she/he gets very close to you. For once the tilted angle of standing lower than the stage is cancelled. It’s possibile to close up and shoot a portrait with a wide angle which always give an unmatched sense of presence.
Another factor is ruled by the stage decorations. Some nice (and some ugly). If lucky to have only those analogic boxes, cables and setlist, it’s worth being ready to catch the moment.
If they have (as Kathleen Edwards did) a nice carpet, the pictures may be even nicer.
Things I avoid are towels, plastic bottles, leftovers and everything that doesn’t fit with the subject but messes up the composition.
A balanced photograph is the meeting point of lighting, subject and background. Photographs that forget the importance of the background aren’t usually strong. It must either be neutral or fit with the subject. A difficult thing to achieve at concerts where photographers’ control is close to nothing.
If the background completes the subject, it will boost the effect of the photo. If it is distracting, the eyes of the viewer will be attracted by it and move away from the subject.