SHOW REVIEW: Vashti Bunyan
Halleluwah, a music, art and film festival -- Disjecta, September 1st and 2nd, 2006 (Portland, Oregon)
By: Scott D. Lewis
Vashti Bunyan is from another time and place.
Figuratively and literally.
The singer-songwriter released a stunning, unmistakably British folk
album in 1970, then promptly vanished on journeys, landing in Ireland,
raising her children, tending to assorted animals, and going about
sundry domestic duties.
"Observer Music Monthly" named "Just Another Diamond Day," one of the
top 100 British albums of all time and when neo-folkies such as
Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom began singing her praises and having
her sing on their records, her reputation and stature as an underground
legend grew quickly.
After a 35 year break, she recorded her follow-up, "Lookaftering."
While Bunyan?s roots remain in the Sandy Denny school (which we now
know she certainly helped build) of seeing regional, rural musical
traditions from the inside out, her newer songs are more melodic and
flowing ? her tender voice only tightened a stitch by the years.
Bunyan?s midnight appearance, as headliner for the fledging, ambitious
Halleluwah arts festival on Saturday, marked her first appearance,
ever, in the U.S.
Which should have made it a rather special thing deserving of careful
However, Disjecta?s upstairs is simply a blocky warehouse space, and
the sad sound system was easily outdone by cars blaring down Burnside,
sirens and one dreadfully determined car alarm.
On the plus side, some 200 arty, friendly and, well, sweaty, fans sat
rapt on the scarred wooden floors and in a few flimsy metal chairs or
stood in semicircle at the back, listening intently and being taken on
a trip through time and space as Bunyan and her five piece
trans-continental band doled out her delicate, lilting tunes of
heartaches, longing and dreams.
Beginning with a new song, the questioning and hesitant "Hidden,"
Bunyan seemed both overjoyed and overwhelmed at performing live. Her
voice was restrained and tense for a few songs, and her charming,
understated introductions were mere whispers.
"Winter is Blue," written 40 years ago when Bunyan was "very young and
very heartbroken," and only available on her debut?s reissue, haunted
with its lovely cello passages and Bunyan?s peering voice that sounds
like a wounded yet content, small bird.
But the real world just kept pushing its way in.
Curses to you Portlanders playing with your cell phones during the
subdued show, and the one obtuse observer who had the gall to take a
call during such a gorgeous moment should have been made to crawl out
onto the streets.
"Where I Like to Stand," a collaboration born from her friendship with
the painter John James, was like being transported to the gentle
English countryside. Another song about heartbroken youth, "Love Song,"
was as sparse and hollow as a song could be, yet magically full,
wondrous and satisfying.
"I like America," Bunyan said with a wide, humble smile as the crowd
reacted with awed enthusiasm.
Hopefully she?ll be back and hopefully we?ll be a little bit more
prepared and well, properly put together.