Heading down to St Pancras Church to see Saint Saviour we nudge through the humid city air close to the canal. On entering the near empty churchyard, it seems we’ve found an idyll, a quiet pause in the least likely of places, Kings Cross, the sovereign transport hub that never graduates to being desired as a destination. Even the sounds of the main road add to the mise en scene, rather than interrupt it. It is very much an experience where all the composite elements work together. The near silence, the encroaching sunset, the stone monuments, the urban fox unfazed by our presence, all bleed into one to create a satisfying whole, a feeling of a few stolen moments in an urban oasis the result.
As with the experience of physical places, the resulting effect of live performances is necessarily hung on the careful collusion of individual elements. A well thought out, well produced show is a true joy to experience, and an artist that pays attention to every detail of the production is always to be commended. However, there are also performances where each element appears to be at odds, clamouring for attention and detracting greatly from the core reason for their existence, the music itself.
Entering the church it appears so busy with artefacts on such a wonderfully simple structure that it seems more pagan than ecclesiastical. The space is also packed with devout fans who have all bagged tickets to this sold out show. It is cool amidst the pews, the music playing before our headliner is airy, folk with classical instrumentation – perfect. The church gleams blue, then glowers red, simple but effective chromatic transformations.
The show opens with an overture on cello, guitar and delicate, melodic synth from the drum pads. ‘Mercy’, a lovely track that follows introduces us to Saint Saviour herself. Becky, dressed in an almost sheer cream dress, floats spectre-like on to the stage and begins to sing. That she has real vocal talent is common knowledge, but live, during this song, the purity and clarity of her voice strikes me as something truly wonderful.
It is followed by ‘Tightrope’, during which the audio visual component begins in earnest: a slowly approaching, silhouetted, tightrope walker is projected against the wall. The musicians switch to their favoured instruments: Drum pads for percussion and a bass instead of a cello. They played diligently, thoroughly but are very much a backing track not a band.
So far so good but as the track somes to a close, the element that would prove to be the undoing of the whole show begins. The dancing becomes very much the tipping point away from the music, away from the church, away from Saint Saviour as a singer and into an alternate reality where the singer in front of me is at a psyc-trance rave on a beach, not performing in a church in London. Where the centrepiece is a comedic interpretation of styles of dancing at an 80s house rave, soundtracked by proficient amateurs whilst their mates go nuts with newly acquired AV software. From here it all escalates, all compounds, and by the time we reach ‘The Rain Falls On The Just’, the selection of audiovisuals, moves and effects are just mind-boggling. The crux coming with the Arabic faces and protest scenes meshed into the already crowded back wall of the church.
As someone who appreciates the record, although finds it quite muddled too I was willing to be persuaded but it is all but impossible to fight against the production elements. The music lost amongst the theatrics. The cluttered church back drop muddled with the over zealous lighting, the jarring confused projected images, the bizarre dance moves. Deeply discombobulating. Who can focus on the music when you have so much else being thrust at you?
Freedom of expression is not a bad thing at all in music, but when it comes close to destroying the creativity beneath and the enjoyment of the audience it should be reined in a little. Saint Saviour doesn’t get restraint, no vocal wibble left unwobbled, no body part kept still, no light left to shine clearly, no image focused on long enough to be contemplated. This is most evident during the encore when things calm, the visuals cease briefly and there is a little space for the music to breathe, if only there had been some before.
By Suze Olbrich.