Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Cate Le Bon – Koko, London 11/09/14

15 September 2014, 12:00 | Written by Ed Nash

The salubrious labyrinth that is Koko is the setting for Cate Le Bon’s biggest date in the UK so far, to support her beguiling album Mug Museum. It’s the perfect venue for her, recreating the same sensation one gets from listening to her records, where you feel like you’ve walked into an other time in history, rather like Alice stepping into Wonderland. Whilst the star of the show tonight is undoubtedly her wondrous voice - which moves from heartbroken to giddy, impassive to joyous, often in the same song - her phenomenal band give it a run for its money. Featuring H. Hawkline on guitar and keyboards, Sweet Baboo on bass and Daniel Ward’s propulsive drums, they are a fearsome proposition, shifting the songs gears back and forth in the blink of an eye. The guitar interplay between Le Bon and Hawkline is spectacular, reminiscent of Television’s Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.

They open with “No God”, a chugging lounge music two chord riff and it’s complimented with dizzying psychedelic background visuals that are like something from The Monkees film Head. “Cyrk”, the title track of her second album, takes its own sweet time, slowly seducing rather than indulging in hurried foreplay and it thrillingly builds up to a coital wigout. The restrained opening is completed with “Are You With Me Now?” a giddy folk song about the impatience of waiting for someone to commit, “It’s not impossible, it’s not unusual, to feel like a shadow” and the three part harmonies are simply lovely.

The pace is then effortlessly stepped up, with “I Can’t Help You” being Krautrock set to an Elizabethan Madrigal with Marlene Dietrich on vocals. Hawkline jumps between a guitar line that sounds like a lute and ethereal keyboards, which interweave beautifully with the vocal melody. The concentration of the players is evidence of the touchingly obvious love the musicians have for each other, the singer and these unique songs. They perfectly coalesce on recent single “Duke” which is “Sweet Jane” relocated to Wales. The guitar licks remind you what a tremendous guitarist Le Bon is, there are no fussy notes, and she tops it off with those ridiculously high vocal notes at the end.

The standout song of the night is the magical duet “I Think I Knew”, where she introduces Perfume Genius as “A wonderful man, he smells good and he’s a genius”. In an ingenious reversal of genders, Le Bon plays the world weary detached part to Genius’s tremulous wallflower, underscored with a beautifully restrained soundtrack.

They then thrilling and ferociously shift the speed again. “Wild” matches the holocaust moment from “You Made Me Realise” by My Bloody Valentine, here fronted by a female pagan Jimi Hendrix. With stills from The Exorcist on the background visuals, it’s an almighty headfuck that is briskly followed by the dizzy urgency of “Sisters.” The set closes with “Fold The Cloth”, a dainty ditty that wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack to The Wicker Man.

The encores are cover versions of songs that sound like nothing from Cate Le Bon’s oeuvre, but you’d be forgiven for assuming they were, such is the distinctiveness of her voice and band. So we get a delirious take on “Wild One” by Thin Lizzy, yes, you read that correctly, which ends with Sweet Baboo and Le Bon jumping on the drum riser and what should be a ridiculous rockist gesture is in fact quite the opposite. The closer features Le Bon alone with her guitar playing “Frank Mills” from the soundtrack of Hair. It’s an inspired choice, tailor-made for her idiosyncratic storytelling style, observational and disarmingly honest. “I love him but it embarrasses me to walk down the street with him.”

The word ‘otherworldly’ is frequently overused in the context of artists such as these, but in the space of an hour tonight Cate Le Bon transported the audience into a rarefied world that was equal parts intense, soothing and full of passion. If she sticks with this line-up of musicians and recreates this beautiful sound on her next record then her best work is still to come.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next