After a sparse pulsating introductory set by LA Timpa, full with electronic magic-making and ghostly vocals, fellow Canadian native Ladan Hussein crept onstage, better known by her stage name Cold Specks. Night & Day café was a far cry from the recent venues I’d been attending and what a surprising pleasure for us as concert-goers to find it relatively empty, allowing us to get up close and personal.
Come along with me, I’m a maker of dreams
She appropriately opened up with the above lines with the softest of synth lines backing her up as she cradled the mic and twisted and contorted to the stand, swaying left and right as her words came out like far-off echoes increasing and decreasing in power. “Let Loose the Dogs” then changes track and comes more alive with the backing band and the Kings of Leon-esque guitar drone and thudding bass. Having just released her third album Fool’s Paradise, she played a good mixture of old, more delicate acoustic singer/songwriter style, and new, which was more R’n’B-tinged and soulful with an extra dose of groove. Her backing band was composed of a mere 2 people, on keyboard and bass, and another on electronic pad, providing enough instrumentation for both styles.
She took to her first album for the next two songs starting with the bittersweet “Winter Solstice”, showcasing notable power in her quavering voice and ending the song with the first of many impressive gospel-like acapella moments, with backing members just watching on the sidelines, sipping wine and espresso martini. She continued with the dark and tormented-sounding “Hector” and its lilting repetitive chorus as she put her hoodie up in wary protection, twisting at the mic whilst clutching her body:
Bring me down, I’ll keep it brief
Next song started off sounding like a modern-day rap song before morphing into smooth R’n’B vibes when the bass kicked in in tandem with her soulful voice and “Solid” then turned into eponymous last album track “Fool’s Paradise” bearing the same singing style, vibes and themes and which she claimed was about castrating agent orange to which she had to specify to our innocently dull minds meant cutting off Trump’s balls. She ended on her own, acapella, mic in the hand and staring off into some distant unseen future as we, the audience, stared up in wonderment and dutiful silence.
She followed those with the short and wistful “New Moon” to complete the trio before reaching back into her catalogue for potential breakout hit and standout track “Blank Maps”, on her own in to the small expectant crowd. She played a near-full verse before stopping to tinker with the tuning and re-launch into it for a second round of pleasure, but by that time, a band somewhere in the building, adjacent or not, but underneath was playing thudding rock’n’roll sort of music, the bass of which permeated up to our quiet little heaven of tenderness. She lengthened the song with some extra graceful wordless singing but and casually addressed us as regards the extra noise, wondering whether it was her amp or not. This seemed to unbalance and distress her somewhat as she–purposefully or not–cut off the hopeful and uplifting last lines. Got to hear them once at least.
I am I am, I am I am, a goddamn believer
She more than made up for that in her demeanour and with next new song and set highlight “Wild Card” which really grooved around with sweet silky bass, he of that instrument looking like Johnny Greenwood with dark black hair falling over in the same way, as she danced at the mic and looped her voice for some extra effects. After grabbing her guitar for the next song, she seemed a little more bummed when the amp started making weird noises, coupled with the increasing level of rowdy banter coming from the bar behind us, so she changed the set-list and went for the quietly dance-able “Witness”. She popped down into the crowd at the start, presumably to cop an ear at how it sounded (and not play the entire song like I amazingly imagined and hoped for!) and looking all the more relatable and vulnerable in her Yeezus T-shirt and hoodie in all her 1m60 or so, before getting back onstage. She announced the last song as “Void” and a mean electronic drumbeat signalled its arrival and sombre tones in dark R’n’B groove, sounding ever so slightly like up-and-coming Algiers, not for the first time that night.
At the song’s end, she quickly escaped away, but some persistent clapping from the small crowd incited her back out for a solo encore which turned out to be the show’s highlight–in part thanks to those disrespectful noisy people in the back. She started the song onstage before a change of heart and approach urged her to sit down on the edge of the stage, mic-less, which prompted a collective advance from all of us desperate for a more intimate musical gathering. And rewarded we were in the most intimate of performances, bathing us in her strong voice within touching distance and rebuffing the advancing sound guy with a wonderful can we have a moment? implying both a moment longer to end the set and a moment between her and us. The voices behind us seemed only to amplify and piss us off further–even prompting what I thought was a they’ll rot in hell (hearing might just be shot after so many gigs…) and a under-breath “fuckers” from one in the crowd–but it was not enough to dampen and ruin the most rewarding of live musical moments as this powerful little soul of woman was surrounded by a few avid fans and listeners, entranced by her magical voice. A most beautiful, intimate and perfect ending to a lovely performance as her last words came to fruition.
I predict a graceful expulsion