Edinburgh live music: KT Tunstall review at Usher Hall Edinburgh
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Granted, it can be a gamble to kick off a gig with new material. But charismatic songstress KT Tunstall pulls it off with ease. I saw the Edinburgh-born artist perform once in a pub with her loop pedal before the release of her debut album Eye to the Telescope which she joked is now ‘old enough to drink’. More than 20 years later I was intrigued to see her live again.
Playing her first UK full headline tour since the Covid pandemic, the BRIT award-winning musician raised the roof at the Usher Hall. Back on form after suffering hearing problems a few years ago that saw her cancel a tour, she danced up and down the stage belting out material from her new album and favourites from her back catalogue. Performing in the Lothian Road venue for the first time ever, and having not done a gig since before the pandemic, she had the audience hooked from the start with rousing songs in a concert packed with high-energy and foot-stomping beats.
The multi-million selling artist has that rare quality – genuine stage presence. She is as captivating as ever; a natural and funny storyteller who weaves anecdotes about life on the road through the set and harks back to her humble beginnings as a busker. From the start she charmed the audience. Folk in the stalls were invited to take up no-show seats at the front of the sell out gig. Eager fans wasted no time making their way down to the first few rows to get nearer the stage.
Wearing a short white kilt the 47-year-old was joined on stage by Gorillaz touring bassist Seye Adelekan, Stu Wilkinson and Andy Burrows best known as Razorlight drummer, who opened the show with a laidback acoustic set. Together they delivered a tight performance of the NUT, the third in a trilogy inspired by ‘the three’ of ‘soul, body and mind’ that she started recording in 2016. One of the tracks was described by KT as a positive lockdown anthem which features the lyric ‘I’m just a head in a jar’.
Blending three-part harmonies and percussion the band brought a fresh dynamic to KT’s typical stage setup of her with guitars and her trusty loop pedal. She joked about how it was cheaper to play with the pedal but says her greatest joy is playing with her fellow musicians. The authentic chemistry between them really came across. Iconic favourite Black Horse and the Cherry Tree had fans on their feet singing their hearts out, no mean feat in a seated venue.
Tracks from her seventh studio album were interwoven nicely with older tracks Another Place to Fall and a stripped back performance of Under the Weather. Paying homage to other artists the 47-year-old played snippets from Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears. There was a slick tribute to Annie Lennox and Eurythmics getting into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and a song about Stevie Nicks.
During a busking-style section she segued into Walk like an Egyptian and then Whole Lotta love followed by a surprising ode to dance music that got the whole room on their feet doing ‘the bounce’ move. But the highlight for me was the acoustic set; even with the bright lights in a big venue it showcased her raw talent and proved testament to how she shot to fame in the first place.
As she sang Heal Over I could really hear and feel the power of that voice and her lyrics. She recalled how she wrote it in a flat in Edinburgh before playing it for a record label producer in London who told her she should play with less chords. ‘Needless to say, I didn't sign with that label'. Finally, she teased the crowd with a game of ‘will this be the last song’ and opted for Suddenly I see. It was a fitting finale to a thoroughly entertaining gig. Coming out on a high, I felt excited to hear what comes next in her musical legacy.