Natalie Prass

support The Orange Grove
author TL date 18/08/15 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

Despite never actually making it to her support slot at the most recent Ryan Adams show in Copenhagen (because of an airline strike), Virginia songwriter Natalie Prass has somehow won some attention to herself in Denmark. Whether it be a result of the tribute set Ryan Adams performed for her - dressed in drag and warming up to his own show - or the effect of a great song like "My Baby Don't Understand Me" airing on P6 Beat radio, who knows? What is known is that her show has ended up getting upgraded from the 200 capacity Ideal Bar to the 600 capacity Lille Vega, which gets decently filled for the Tuesday nighter - To the point where there are people to be seen from the front rows to the bar, yet with enough space in between to get around relatively comfortably.

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The Orange Grove

The gig of getting the audience warmed up has been given to the local Americana rock group The Orange Grove, a sextet that contains three guitarists as well as an organist/lap steel player, yet brings a rather relaxed and uncluttered sound to bear. The premise seems to be, right from the name, through the frontman's denim-clad figure and surfer blond hair, and over to the actual music, to conjure up an illusion of playing music that harks from the US west coast. Their sound brings to mind the kind of folk/pop-rock songwriters your mother might have had posters of in the 70s, here thinking of guys like Van Morrison, Jackson Browne and of course Neil Young, Dylan and so on. Perhaps it is simply because the band is actually from Copenhagen though, but something about their expression feels more imitated than authentic, and particularly when the lap steel plays its most country sections, the feeling is somewhat cringeworthy - like something you'd hear playing from the beer tent at a fairground in a province town.

To the band's credit, they appear relaxed on stage, greeting people in a relatively forthcoming manner between songs, and the songs play out tightly enough, so apart from their material varying a bit from corny and old-fashioned to cool enough retro, there's nothing about their set to straight up be ashamed of. There are just a lot of things they could be doing better. Considering that their music has room for the lyrics and vocal melodies to really get the listener invested in a story, it would look good on their frontman to sing and perform with more presence. For now, he mostly sings with closed eyes that are further covered by his hair, and it sounds more like he's reciting the words from memory as opposed to breathing some life into their meaning. Meanwhile, his bandmates could do with exuding just a bit more confidence and routine, as they look a bit businesslike on stage, as opposed to resembling a unit with some investment in the songs. Overall, the best thing to say about the set is that the band gets around with noticeably different songs. Their stage presence, singing, and ideas have room for improvement, though, as for now they are simply OK.

Natalie Prass

When Natalie Prass comes on after the break, accompanied by her three-man backing band, two things instantly become clear. First, there's no horn player in the show, meaning than the brass and the clarinets that are so tastefully used on Prass' self-titled debut album will sadly be absent in tonight's performance. Second, the reason Prass is already playing a respectably sized venue on the other side of the planet from her home, is that she has a classic star performer's kind of singing voice and a backing band that understands how to play around her in an extremely balanced way.

Appearing in golden heels and a plain white dress, as well as with a friendly and forthcoming attitude, Prass commences with "Your Fool", which instantly displays her gifts as both a vocalist and a storyteller. Much could be written about how enjoyable Prass's singing voice is, and how skillfully her band plays their parts around her, but let's just say that it's on a high level and people who appreciate quality musicianship should make sure to check it out. That said, even their performance is uneven in places. A new song is aired which is significantly faster and more rhythmical than the ones on Prass's album, and here the clarity of the words gets a bit lost and consequentially so does the lyrical side of Prass's appeal. The same happens during uptempo covers of Simon And Garfunkel's "Sound Of Silence" and Ryan Adams' "My Winding Wheel", and as the set progresses, it becomes clear that the faster, more groovy and rock-like the songs get, the more Prass' appears like an artist that sounds good musically, but not musically and lyrically. The meanings behind the sounds simply get lost a bit.

If anything though, this only shows the contrast more clearly when Prass does play some of her mellower slow-burners, like the fantastic "My Baby Don't Understand Me" and "Violently", which both appear towards the end of the set. Here there's room between the beats for Prass to really shine as a singer and performer, giving pleasure to both the ears and the heart. She's quick to dissipate the slightest hint of a melancholy mood, however, often jumping straight from her joyful persona into the first line of a song, and straight back out again right after the last beat, and you sort of wish she would just take a deep breath both before and after, just to let the gravity of an emotionally loaded song sink in a bit.

As the set ends with an encore performance of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by The Supremes, a seemingly satisfied audience is sent off into the night, and it should be emphasized that Natalie Prass is performing at a high level at a young age. If she could tighten her grasp of the lyrical delivery in her faster songs and in her covers though, and if she allowed the mood to perhaps get a bit deeper when it fits the song she's about to play, she could have even more impact. Oh and if she could bring along someone to play those horns. Seriously those horns.

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