Live Review: Joana Serrat at The Portland Arms, Cambridge w/ The Delines

After a nervous moment at the door due to the venue being over-capacity, which left us worrying for a moment we might not get in, a couple of fortunate no-shows meant that we caught Joana Serrat’s set a couple of tracks in. We walked into the packed room and shuffled to the back to find a spot to stand.

“It’s a very attentive crowd” my friend said to me. Attentive they were – entirely silent, all eyes facing forward towards the stage. A few steps to the left and I managed to find a gap amongst the tall heads to catch sight of the lone figure on stage. I wasn’t too familiar with Joana’s work but saw that she was passing through Cambridge on tour with The Delines that evening, and after checking out a few songs online, we thought we might make an evening of it.

I wasn’t sure if she would come with the band that appears on her records or just by herself – but the silence of the crowd was all the more impressive considering she held our attention entirely with just her guitar and her voice and nothing more. The set was characterised mostly by slow melodic tracks with the occasional more upbeat number. Clearly an experienced performer, Joana’s voice had an understated quality but was near flawless in delivery – she tended to keep to the lower register so it was almost surprising to hear that her higher register was just as impressive and effortless.

Her songs were atmospheric and melodic – a great beginning to the evening and a good match to The Delines who were to follow after her. But I couldn’t help wishing after a few songs that perhaps some of the headline act’s rhythm section could step onto stage and add something of an instrumental depth to her tracks. About half way through her set, however, a tap of the foot turned on some kind of effects pedal – and each chord she fretted on her guitar was harmonised by an airy synth-pad sound. It was a subtle but effective addition to the texture of her performance.

She spoke few words between each song and it was only when, about half an hour in, she asked the crowd what time it was  – to determine how much time she had left – that the ‘fourth wall’ of the performance was broken down. It took a few moments for one guy near the front to call out the time – a reminder of the silent intensity and atmosphere that her set created.

Review by Jamie Brown

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: