an evening with Katie Melua
interview and concert review
The TLA - Philadelphia, PA
click on image to visit Katie's UK website|
image © Dramatico Ltd 2004
Philadelphia's Theater for the Living Arts (TLA), in the heart of the city's South Street arts district, was the seventh venue in Katie Melua's second American tour to support the promotion of her highly successful debut album Call Off The Search (review) released here on 08 June 2004. Melua's record has trompled the UK with a 4x Platinum rating--with over 1.2 million units sold--since release there in November 2003. Two singles from the album have already had dramatic success with a third planned for release in July.
Katie Melua's American tour began in Seattle just a day prior to the album's domestic release and then continued with dates in Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago and Boston before arriving in Philadelphia on Sunday 20 June for the artist's debut at the TLA. Additional showcases in San Diego and Toronto were also part of this tour. Katie entered the lobby unceremoniously through the main doorway to gain access to the theater, having likely noticed the misspelling of her first name on the venue's marquis. The crew fixed it only moments later. It was our first trip back to the TLA since meeting Annie Haslam (review) there just over eight years ago.
We first interviewed Katie last month for article accompanying our review of Call Off The Search. This time, we were introduced on stage just as soundcheck began. She's a gorgeous, small (5' 2") and slender nineteen year old with vast locks of dark hair that's been tucked tightly into a lone barette and is wearing virtually no makeup. And she is instantly accessible, chatty yet poised and everso friendly.
So, in just a tank top, jeans and sneakers, she led us to the top floor dressing room for 30 minute private chat while the instrumental artists carried on with the soundcheck. We found Katie charming and easy to talk with. The results of our interview and our concert review follow below. Additional images are available at Katie's UK website and photos taken at this concert will be added to this article as soon as they are available.
Katie Melua in New York
click on image to visit Katie's USA website
image © Dramatico Ltd 2004
We asked Katie when she first came to America. She told us, "We were here about a month ago and did a few small gigs--showcases--around bars in New York. They were short dates." And about her trip so far, she added, "I've been having a lot of fun. It's great being here." Noting our break in the summertime humidity, Katie remarked, "The weather has been very good. A lot less muggy." And, "Yeah, it's been really gorgeous over the weekend and today has been beautiful."
When asked where she'd been this tour, Katie said, "West coast, east coast, up to Canada too." And continued, "We went to the west coast, to LA and San Francisco, to Seattle and to Chicago. We were in Boston Saturday and we are going to Washington tomorrow. Then we are going to Atlanta." We were wanted to hear Katie's perspective on differences between UK and American audiences. She told us, "The American auciences are really no different from the UK audiences. It's just that different audiences have different ways of showing their appreciation. As long as they are clapping at the end of the song they like what they are hearing." She added, "Some venues are standing and others are sitting. There's definitely more going on when people are standing. People get more into the music when they are standing, they get more into the music. When they are sitting they listen more to the music. I like it when they dance along to the songs."
We asked Katie what she'd been up to in her spare time, especially since Sunday and earlier today had been available as down time. "I've been relaxing and just hanging around today I went to the park and did some writing." We remarked that some artists find touring is difficult. Katie told us, "This is what I live for. I love performing. Performing on stage in front of people is what it's all about." She added, "When I first started playing about five years ago, I performed in small pubs. It's a lot different now."
And about the reaction to her music so far, Katie said, "Well in the UK it's been amazing. I am on a small label and it took a while for the album to go to number one, but after that the response has been fantastic. It was only released in England and has only now been released here in America and we are looking at Europe. Because of this tremendous response, we're continuing to promote the album. It is is already a year old and we've moved on but instead of getting on with the next one we are releasing it in other countries. It's not what we planned originally."
So how do the audiences react to Katie's material when performed live? She told us, "[It has been] fantastic. It seems that people really enjoy my music and the performances." And how the performances differ from the album, she adds, "I've had time to learn the songs and sing them the way they should be sung. It's evolved a lot since we made the record. We completed the record almost a year ago now. I do a lot more with the songs." And how does she round out the show? Katie says, "Let's face it the album is only about 45 minutes and I need a longer show. So I've added a few cover tunes--more upbeat songs--and some other fun stuff and some new songs. There's no orchestra so we have had to change the sounds a bit."
We asked about the band. "I've got a strong rhythm section with bass and drums, piano and a trumpet; and guitar and keyboards to take on the parts of the orchestra." And what should we expect to hear? Katie answered, "For a start the twelve songs on the album but we've mixed in some fun covers which are more upbeat and two new songs from the upcoming album."
And the string of live performances have led Katie to be on a couple of nationally syndicated television shows. When asked about them, Katie said, "They went very well. That was a blast. I was on Good Morning America and a few other shows." Katie is asked frequently about work on the next album. "I've done some writing in additon to the two new songs in the show tonight and we'll probably go into the studio later this summer to put a couple of tracks down." So what can we expect to hear? "I've been doing a lot of writing so there will be more of my own songs. And the sound has evolved a lot since the first record." Readers will have to see Katie perform on stage to understand the extent of her response.
Plans for the follow-up are solidifying. Katie also spoke of a forthcoming DVD, "It [the DVD] was actually already recorded. We did it during the UK tour. In addition to the live performance we have some bonus material." Like music videos? "Yeah, that kind of thing." And she says, "We plan to release it in the wintertime, in time for Christmas."
We asked Katie her thoughts on the internet. She said, "It was a really helpful tool when we first started out. Initially when I wasn't that well known, the website was where people could find out about me. It took about five months for people to find out about me because we are on a small label. On the website we had a guestbook where people could leave messages." And what about downloading? "I think that downloading music is a great thing but if people don't buy the music that really sucks. But what can you do?"
Katie has a few more dates in this tour. She told us what's in store afterwards. "We are going to do a UK tour in July and I'm going on holiday in August. We plan to go to Europe when we release over there and then come back here." Our discussion concluded as the soundcheck had advanced to the point where it needed Katie's vocals to continue. We joined the soundcheck with Katie so we did missed the traditional mic checks of the drums and the initial checks of the various instruments that had likely been done to some extent before we came along. The entire band did bits of a few songs and then a full song. After that some of the musicians briefly departed leaving Katie and Mike to do a number. And then they did a couple of numbers with the whole band. The audio wasn't quite right but they pressed on and did a little more.
Perhaps the most notable part of Katie's soundcheck happened next. She just sort of hung out and did her own thing--bits of existing and new songs--for another 10-15 minutes or so and completed a proper vocal warmup while the sound guy fiddled with her monitor and guitar settings. No rock diva thing with everyone gathered round. Just Katie Melua. There was actually no "full on" song done during the check to ensure all of the levels were set appropriately. Yet as if by magic everything worked when they did the set.
Katie Melua hasn't yet become a household name in the United States. But based on the reaction to her performance at the TLA, the time when her name is as well known as Norah Jones or Melua's idol Eva Cassidy is near. It's just a matter of getting the word out. Melua is an extremely versatile performer and while many will realize that from the album, it's the live performance where she really delivers the goods. She enjoys covering Cassidy's work immensely, in fact concluding the concert with a cover of "Anniversary Song" as well as pop bands like The Cure.
On stage Katie plays a range of guitars and is further backed by her band. The artists include Mike Batt (piano), Jimmy Cregan (guitars), Lisa Featherston (bass), Herny Spinetti (drums), Dominic Glover (trumpet) and Matt Condon (keyboards). Notably, Cregan played with Rod Stewart and Spinetti played with Eric Clapton. Mike Batt has a renowned career and has worked with a list of artists long enough to fill this page, including Miriam Stockley(Arabesque, 1995). The material works really well live, with alternate non-orchestra arrangements truly showcasing all of the artists presently involved, with Melua's powerful vocals driving the sound. And she has developed a wider range and significantly more power than one hears on Call Off The Search. The new arrangements work really well and provide a good contrast between live and studio performances.
The concert's main set comprised sixteen tracks--all twelve from her debut album, two new tracks, and two covers. Songs from the album were well-played and familiar but the vocal treatment was more emotionally intense. Performed either sitting on a stool with guitar, standing alone without instrument or with electric guitar, the singer's interpretation of the lyrical content was expressed primarly with her eyes which varied from open and searching to closed to clenched with emotion. And this intensity increased through the performance bringing memories of Mary Fahl's performance with October Project at the TLA immediately to mind.
The first new track played was "Spider's Web," a powerful, and almost progressive, rocker complete with vast tempo and style changes. Penned by Melua herself, it shows the singer's songwriting talent over the Batt- and cover-tunes performed on the debut album. And when played in the live setting, Katie interacted with the other players significantly moreso than with the album's tracks. The second new song is entitled "Shirt Of A Ghost." It's varied tempo and broad stylistic range suits Melua perfectly and promises, like "Spider's Web" to be an instant hit with her fans.
The band's interpretation of The Cure's song "The Lovecats" singing in duet with Mike Batt drew significant attention from the audience, expanding their comprehension of Katie Melua's range. She is not only a blues and jazz singer--this young woman can rock with power better than many. For those that benefit from comparisons, visually Katie is as instensely evocative as Mary Fahl and vocally as wide ranging and powerful as Heather Nova. As the main set came to a conclusion with the hit "The Closest Thing To Crazy," the audience was ready for what would come to follow in the encores.
Katie and the band returned after a significant standing ovation by the TLA's crowd to play an extended version of "I Put A Spell On You." The encore performance naturally showcases each of the individual artists' abilities with lots of solo spotlights demonstrating their virtues. Katie's power and range came across in full splendour both in between and atop the instrumentals. But it was the pace, high energy and Katie's everso evocative delivery that made the track work so extremely well. Fortunately for those that can't get to a live performance, the track is presently available for download at iTunes, a must listen for enthusiasts. The show concluded with Katie's sensual solo delivery of Eva Cassidy's "Anniversary Song." She was recognized with yet another ovation by the enthusiastic crowd before being joined by the rest of the band for final bows.
Katie Melua's brief American tour has now whet the appetite for a country that has most recently embraced the differing sounds of Norah Jones and Eva Cassidy. Katie Melua's debut album is certain to achieve success here and her new found fans will insist that she return to do more live dates that better illustrate the full range of her talent. We can't wait!
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