“Hello (Hello, Hello, Hello) is there anybody in there?”, we thought, rolling up to The Grace. It’s our first time heading to venue, which looks more of a speakeasy than a performance space at first glance. It’s also completely empty even though we were late. Behind the entrance, through a large glass window fitted into the centre of the door, an usher looks back out at me with sad, tired eyes. He seems reluctant to shuffle out of my way but ultimately concedes. Once inside, we sat there in a sort of stalemate as the seconds ticked by, just looking at each other, then he reached down for his phone and began thumbing the screen. For what was longer than comfortable, I watched the grapple between finger and screen while eavesdropping on the conversation between the bartender and the manager. They were explaining to each other what happened to the £100 float in the till that’s now missing, like conspirators getting their alibis straight. Finally, a bright light shone into my face and I’m asked what’s in my bag. This must be the place.
A treacherously steep wooden stairwell opens into a medium/small gig space with a semi-partitioned wall breaking up the bar and stage. It’s dimly lit, but framed well, and just over half filled with people anticipating Jodie Nicholson’s (@jodienicholsonmusic) first headline tour kicking off in London this evening. In a few moments, their wait is over. The chatter at present in the background even while the band forms on stage and even after Jodie starts playing the keys, is more irritating than cicadas in full chorus. The racket, however, disappears like a thrown switch when Jodie’s voice cradles set opener ‘Midnight’ in a resonant whisper.
In the press blurb fired out to critics lacks the accolades bestowed on the emerging artist to distinguish them from the crowd. Nothing stood out as noteworthy, or even really came across as specific or sincere. The only compelling feature that hooked us was a link to a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’, a personal favourite, best click-bait ever. Theological bylines like ‘Second-Sun at the Old Church’ don’t exactly pop either. Even if the prog-rock hook isn’t your angle, it doesn’t have to be, you’ll soon come to understand Nicholson’s presence on the keys, strings and mic is delicate yet firm, cradling and bringing her songs with her, as she does with the audience. The openness in her music is anachronistic to her surroundings; one never really leaves themselves vulnerable in London. On this evening, however, personal boundaries drop and the warm whisper of her vocals pull the audience in.
What we couldn’t wrap our minds around was just how easily Jodie could pull us in and effortlessly maintain a wonderful stage presence while juggling audience engagement. Nicholson, seemingly, has no fear. She is relentlessly comfortable, and in her element on stage. Engaging naturally with her audience is both easy and playful. There are technical difficulties later in the set when unveiling ‘Situation’, which leads to a situation of its own. Meeting the hiccup with composure, and a levity we’re sure we wouldn’t have been able to muster had the roles been reversed, she jokes, “we’re just going to act like nothing happened”. Then, just like that, the band powers through, succeeding in their second attempt. ‘Second Sun’, from the Church Sessions was perhaps our favourite off the album and the evening. Jodie’s vocals, and non-lyrical vocalisations as a whole, move and bend with the grace of rhythmic gymnastics. They are truly as mesmerizing as they are unpredictable. They really hit the mark on this one, with an almost imperceptible, reed-like softness in the vibrations of her voice throughout the track. Her instrument, as the tension in melody and song both rise, hangs and falls in the air like a spreading sheet. How it doesn’t crack or falter is perhaps a question best left for the minds of mystics and scientists alike.
The second half of the set, which flies by as quickly as the first, starts off with ‘Move’ intended as a mild-boogie. The audience, over the next few songs, loosens up under Jodie’s gentle encouragement, “now’s your chance!”, and by the time the set is done, we’re hollering for more. The obligatory on/off stage pageantry ensues and we’re back with ‘Comfortably Numb’ as an encore, to our delight. Jodie dedicates the song to her Mom, who’s in the audience, and notes her as the inspiration for the cover. Next they play ‘Shelter’ which she explains as a one into a two. I’m quite sure no one in the audience knows what that means even though it is accompanied by hand gestures that looked more like shadow puppet swans rather than explanations. It was a fine performance, the music was as beautiful as it was disarming, sincere and unguarded. If you haven’t been to your first gig of the year yet, what’s the hold up? Now’s your chance to catch one of the remaining dates as the group make their way North. Don’t forget though, you can’t have your pudding if you don’t wash your feet.
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