Haley – Rialto Theatre, Brighton – 11th November 2018

Photo by Anna Claxton

“This is my favourite city”, gushes Tiger Lion’s Clementine Blue in her alluring French accent. Dressed in a pale silk kimono which sets off her perfect red curls, she looks every inch the intense electronic goddess that she is. The two guys with her on guitar and drums look slightly less passionate but ably accompany her purest vocal, as does the sampling box she uses to add variety and depth to their songwriting. Obvious influences are St Vincent and Tame Impala, but also classic painters – Blue is a visual artist herself and cites Hokusai’s famous Prussian blue as another inspiration for their new single ‘Black Sea’. Although this all sounds a bit pretentious, Tiger Lion champion brooding and atmospheric tunes that should put them yet more firmly on the map in Brighton’s gig scene, a fact Blue may be particularly grateful for. Her manner is confident yet modest, which, combined with a strong sense of identity, means that there is something compelling about them. “We’ve got two songs left”, she says, before looking at the promoter to check. “Haven’t we?” It appears not as she then turns to her bandmates to tell them that’s it. What a shame that the set was cut short. We shall look forward to the next time. Merci beaucoup.

LA-based Kacey Johansing and her guitarist look less engaged or comfortable. Still, Johansing may be ill as she explains that she lost her voice last night. This is hard to believe, as, despite the awkward silence that envelops the small venue when she performs, she is strong and commanding. Promoting last year’s album, The Hiding, Johansing’s music comes across as a pleasant alt-folk, in the vein of Angel Olsen and Kings of Convenience. However, recent single ‘Bow and Arrow’, a lilting ‘Power of Love’ and the album’s title track, would really benefit from a full band this evening. What could have been delicately special feels stale, as she seems a little lacklustre, maybe caught in a vicious circle with the audience who aren’t giving out a huge amount of energy either. It is Sunday night but, after the presence of the opening act, Johansing sadly doesn’t thrill this time.

When Haley takes to the stage, she waves her arms to communicate either a ‘hello’ or ‘wake up, I’m here’. It’s hard to tell which, although the crowd’s faintly dazed expressions could be because they are reflecting on what she is delivering. Sinewy and beautiful, she presses an iPad and applause rings out, before she proceeds to twist the hell out of her synth to create a cacophony of noise. Moving onto her latest release, Pleasureland, the standout moment is a deeply moving ‘Give Yourself Away’, propelled by just piano and a heartrending melody. Following this, she resignedly hovers somewhere between moody and soothing, occasionally using guitar to add an edginess where required.

Sometimes she goes on without addressing the audience and, as such, they fail to respond. In fact, it is now so eerily quiet that people’s breathing is clearly, painfully audible, only broken by the occasional click of a camera. Is it captivation or boredom? Is it intentional on her part? The latter doesn’t appear to be the case as Haley senses the need to explain why, so far, the show has been instrumental. After all, she was Haley Bonar (before she dropped the Bonar) – Canada’s indie-rock queen who had a fantastic voice. “America is basically turning into a dictatorship. I found it really hard to express with words how terrifying this is”, she admits. Haley captures emotions of frustration throughout and, in turn, bravely makes peace with a situation seemingly way beyond her control in a gorgeous display of daring. Surely we all completely empathise with her, given our own current uncertainty as an island?

Apparently not. There is still little reaction, eventually prompting Haley to state that “This is a really quiet rock club”. Does she wish that she had chosen somewhere else for her last date on this UK tour? She decides to focus instead on the guitarist on stage with her, smiling warmly at him as she grabs her own guitar again and moves towards the microphone. Finally, as she starts to sing, there is a glimmer of life. People start moving as if they are hearing what they came for. I almost feel disappointed on Haley’s behalf that her more conventional music stirs people in a way that her far cleverer concept material doesn’t but it isn’t surprising. Her vocal undeniably adds a texture to her sound. Unlike her support act, it is notable how well she adapts her own songs to work without traditional percussion; tracks such as ‘Eat for Free’ are still lamenting and thoughtful for their lyrical content and minimalist arrangements, with a subtle political theme as she plays at length from her prolific archive. Whether Brighton appreciates her is not clear and actually irrelevant. With or without a voice, Haley speaks volumes, so, at the very least, we have witnessed a masterclass of diverse musicianship that she can be more than satisfied with.

Anna Claxton

Website: mysocalledhaley.com
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