The Shee / Hannah James

King's Place, London

15 March 2019

Hannah James opens the evening. I missed my chance to see her Jigdoll tour when it came round my way, so the chance to catch her reprising it was a big consideration in my decision to come down for this concert (because, much as I love The Shee, I've seen them plenty of times before). Even though she was only billed as the support act, it seemed worth taking the opportunity to see her.

Well. She played for roughly an hour. And stole the show. She is phenomenal. One of the absolute best live performers I have ever seen. I already loved her songs, but her performance is so much more than just the songs. Her whole presentation is ... just stunning.

Hannah James sings, plays the accordeon, and dances. But that doesn't begin to describe what her show is like. Those three elements blend into a show that's greater than the sum of its parts. Using looping electronics to multi-track her voice and accordion, using her feet and hands as percussion, she's like a one-woman band. And there's times when the show feels more like theatre than a concert. She puts on her dancing shoes, but she doesn't just put them on, she makes putting them on part of the performance, and she tells a story with the performance. Her dancing ... I can't even describe. I have never seen anyone dance like that. And I don't think I've ever seen a rock drummer play a drum solo anywhere near as clever or entertaining as the one she taps out on the floor with just her hands and her feet. Maybe Carl Palmer. Maybe.

Much as I love The Shee, I wished she was the headline act and played for another hour.

So anyway, The Shee played the second half of the show and ... and reminded me again why I love The Shee. I love the combination of six lead instruments and three singers in one band, the complexity of the song arrangements that this allows them.

For tonight's concert, they are in an expanded line-up with five extra members ("The Shee Big Band"). Giving them an extra accordion, an extra harp, a guitar, a third fiddle, a full drum kit, and two extra voices, and making every arrangement brand new and unique. Songs I've heard a dozen times before take on new characters. The big, 11-piece instrumental swell at the end of Highlands and Flatlands, the five-voice harmonies on The Three Knights and Sugar and Pie, it's all amazing. The sound must be a nightmare to balance, though, and sometimes that means the mix is a little off, specific instruments or voices aren't quite as prominent as I think they should be at certain moments. But the overall effect is worth the odd imperfection. I love their music, and I love the way they're playing it tonight.

Overall: best concert I have ever seen.

But still, with apologies to The Shee, Hannah James stole the show.