Friday, 14 September 2007

Live: David Sylvian - Manchester

David Sylvian – The World Is Everything Tour
Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK
Friday 14 September 2007

David Sylvian is an enigma. Since Japan split at the height of their popularity nearly 25 years ago, his career has been a continuing search for self, crossing many musical genres in the process. Tours from him are comparatively rare, and reports say this is the last time he will perform his older material, so it’s an expectant audience waiting to greet him.

As always there’s an initial shock - that voice shouldn’t be coming from that man. There’s a stillness to him on stage - there is no sudden movement or motion; the whole performance resembles some deep meditation. He remains seated on a high stool throughout, his guitar resting across his lap. For songs without guitar, he carefully and slowly uncoils the microphone from its stand, and holds it close and still to his lips.

Sylvian’s singing has possibly never been finer and his voice is an instrument of singular beauty, its timbre having the resonance that can rend the very fabric of the universe. When it dips and soars, it’s magnificent. Playground Martyrs sees that voice weaving round a simple piano accompaniment, and ends with the kilt-wearing Keith Lowe bowing his electric double bass so high up the neck that it sounds like a deeper, mournful cello. It’s for these moments of pure transcendence alone that he’s always worth seeing, no matter what he’s doing.

But sometimes that is not enough. The PA is ridiculously small, meaning you’re aware that the vocals are coming from small speakers a good twenty-five feet away from the singer. While Steve Jansen is a truly wonderful drummer, he’s given little chance to be the powerhouse that gave a backbone to the Rain Tree Crow project. Keith Lowe shows his skill on a variety of basses and styles while Takuma Watanabe provides solid support on piano and keyboards.

But the biggest problem with this tour is Sylvian himself. Reinvention and reinterpretation are sometimes vital, but here at times he seemed to have lost the essence of what made the songs so special in the first place. Brilliant Trees opens wonderfully, with Theo Travis’ flute superbly recreating Jon Hassell’s eerie horn sounds. But when it segues into Before The Bullfight and Nostalgia, the tempo doesn’t change, and Sylvian’s guitar work seems unnecessary and cloying. At its worse it’s noodling, and it’s an effort to appreciate the beauty over the fill. Sylvian’s often dipped into jazz, but this for me was a step too far.

When he next tours, I’ll be there. But I’ll be hoping his muse has taken him on a somewhat different direction.

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 17 October 2007

Wonderful World
It’ll Never Happen Again
World Citizen / I Won't Be Disappointed
The Day the Earth Stole Heaven
Playground Martyrs / Transit
Fire in the Forest / Ghosts
Snow Borne Sorrow
Mother & Child
Atom & Cell
Sugar Fuel
Brilliant Trees / Before the Bullfight / Nostalgia / Before the Bullfight
The Librarian

Every Colour You Are / Riverman / Every Colour You Are