Live Review: Ngaiire – 8th July 2016 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
The translation of a strong song collection to a live context is evidently a very difficult process. Many artists struggle to present their songs in the best context, and many tracks suffer without their complete production, or with imperfect vocal performances. Seeing Ngaiire’s live show makes it apparent just how much the order and structure of a record plays a role in its enjoyability. Her excellent new album Blastoma is wonderfully paced. Gradually opening with slow, brooding songs, before building to a series of upbeat, catchy pop tracks, and then finally fading away again in the closing ones. Her live show is paced very differently, as Ngaiire defiantly doesn’t play her singles until towards the end of the show, leading to an unfortunate feeling or lethargy towards the sombre soul that makes up most of her set.
Many of Ngaiire’s best songs translate well to a live context. Anchor, played near the beginning of the set, is the kind of ballad that she does best. The melodies were all sorrowful, yet uplifting, and the simple keyboard instrumental filled the room well. Some of the more industrial grit of the recorded version is missing live, and the backup singers (one of whom was out of key) were mixed too high, which the song does suffer for, but it’s nonetheless a strong track. One of the aforementioned singles, House on a Rock was also a standout. It was played towards the end of the show, and added a much needed shot of adrenaline to the performance. The driving vocal rhythms, and drums in the chorus created a track that was fun, and energetic.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the set was made up of slow to mid-tempo soul ballads, which had a tendency to bleed into each other as the show wore on. Tracks like I Wear Black and Rabbit Hole are excellent in isolation, but when sequenced after 6 other very similar songs, they just sound like more of the same. By the time Ngaiire played I Don’t Hear God Anymore, the slow-burning track’s power was muted through sheer force of repetition. However, one pro of the slower tracks, is they gave Ngaiire ample opportunity to show off her stunning vocal skills. She frequently belted out extremely long, powerful notes, and her technical prowess is unparalleled. Even then, in spite of her formal perfection, the performance doesn’t want for emotionality, and tracks like Once sounded deeply felt.
Ngaiire is an artist with a phenomenal amount of potential, both as a recording artist, and as a performer. Between her amazing vocal prowess, her strong, emotionally-grounded songwriting, and her neo-soul production, she should be leading the R&B pack. However, whilst she approaches this on record, her live show is hamstrung by its poor sequencing, with too many slow songs in a row, quickly growing dull. Ngaiire’s songs are individually phenomenal, she just needs to find a stronger way to present them.