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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 March, 2004, 14:29 GMT
Review: Katie Melua in concert
By Neil Smith
BBC News Online

Katie Melua
Katie Melua sang two songs in memory of the late Eva Cassidy
Katie Melua, on tour in the UK, has been performing to sell-out audiences and her gig at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London on Tuesday was no exception.

Many people there had no doubt contributed to her debut album Call Off The Search going to the top of the UK album chart - having sold more than 1,250,000 copies since November.

Melua's chilled-out blend of jazz and blues has invited comparisons to Norah Jones and Joss Stone.

Some critics have been less than kind to the 19-year-old Georgian-born singer, dubbing her a "nearly Norah" churning out "polite pop" for the Radio 2 audience.

But the fact remains that Melua is at the vanguard of an easy-listening revolution that has taken the charts and airwaves by storm.

Languid vibe

Anyone expecting a thrilling night at the Shepherd's Bush Empire was either lost or deluded.

Indeed, the most exciting thing that happened during Melua's 90-minute set was the forced removal of a candle she had lit in memory of her idol, Eva Cassidy.

Melua looked genuinely peeved, and for a fleeting second it seemed we might have a full-scale teenage strop on our hands.

Katie Melua
Melua performed a mix of covers and original tracks
Fortunately, Melua quickly realised that pressing the point would disrupt the languid vibe she and mentor Mike Batt have so assiduously cultivated.

Batt - creator of the theme song and spin-off group from the Wombles children's TV series - was on piano, sporting a jacket that appeared to have been freely splattered with yellow paint.

The Wombles man makes an unlikely Svengali, but his expert marshalling of the five-strong backing band was the ideal complement to Melua's mellifluous vocals.

Opening with her Cassidy tribute Faraway Voice, Melua segued effortlessly into her album's title track, a bluesy ballad which set the tone for an evening of unabashed mellowness.

But then what do you expect from a singer who names two of her guitars after characters from the Toy Story movies?

Haunting vocals

Pitch-perfect performances of the dozen tracks from the album were interspersed with the occasional new song, B-side and cover version.

One of these, an up-tempo rendition of Love Cats, brought back memories of her disastrous duet with Jamie Cullum at the Brits music awards.

Mercifully we were spared a repeat performance, with Melua informing us sadly: "Jamie has to be with his mum tonight."

Alas, there was no escape from Spider's Web, a hilariously naive "political song" that begins with the line: "If a black man is racist, is it okay?"

Katie Melua
Katie Melua continues to top the album chart
But these were aberrations in a concert where Melua's haunting vocals kept even the most grudging onlooker enthralled.

Solo acoustic versions of Lilac Wine and Cassidy's Anniversary Song evoked the kind of captivated hush usually reserved for church.

And a rootsy take on I Put a Spell On You brought things to a jovial conclusion.

"It was great to be back at the place where we did our first big gig," said Melua after the show.

"I can't really believe everything that's happened this past year. It's great to be successful with an album I'm really proud of."

"Hopefully it means the art of singing is coming back."

Katie Melua
Clip of Closest Thing to Crazy

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