Live Review: Luke Sital-Singh + Charlene Soraia at The Portland Arms, Cambridge

Luke Sital-Singh returned to Cambridge for the first time in several years, touring his new album A Golden State (out now), stopping at the Portland Arms for an intimate one man show. I had been expecting Sital-Singh to be supported by a band whilst playing live, so on walking into the venue and seeing no drum kit or bass amp on stage, I was a little nervous about the show being slightly underwhelming.

Charlene Soraia opened up proceedings, treating the audience to a combination of beautifully plucked guitar ballads and amusing mid-song quips. ‘Temptation’ was a particular highlight, detailing the painful process of being attracted to a married man. Throughout her set, I spent most of the time transfixed by her mesmerising guitar picking skills, as she worked her way through unconventional melodies and chord progressions. Her stories about losing her guitar on the way back from a gig in Germany and being tempted to run away to the circus also endeared herself to an audience who loosened up as the set went on.

Due to the set up at the Portland Arms, musicians have to walk through the audience as they head onto stage. As Sital-Singh did so, it added to the living-room vibe of the gig even more. Without introducing himself to the audience, Sital-Singh launched into his set. For the next hour, he had the audience in the palm of his hand, with his powerful voice, variety of guitar and piano sounds, and playful sarcasm.

He played a mixture of songs from his three albums, frequently switching between keys, a Gibson electric guitar and several acoustic ones. Introducing ‘Los Angeles’ from his new album, Sital-Singh drew several laughs from the crowd, explaining how he had somehow managed to write, “the most depressing song about moving to the most sunny place in the world”. Renditions of ‘Fail For You’ and ’21st Century Heartbeat’ from his debut album demonstrated his impressive vocal range, whilst the use of different guitar pedals brought a new depth and tone to each song. Sital-Singh frequently acknowledged the often sad lyrical content of the majority of his songs, yet balanced this with his constant joking between songs. Perhaps the climax of this came just before the encore, when he spent several minutes entertaining the crowd with the story of how he had purchased the fake palm tree, which stood on stage, for £45 from St. Albans, before going to stand behind it in full view of the audience as they cheered for him to return to the microphone. He duly did so, and rounded off the evening with two final songs, showcasing his skill as both a showman and musician.

Review by Jamie Brown

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