Words by Erin Holmes
Photos by Nick Balleza
KT Tunstall made the fourth stop on her North American solo tour here in Washington, D.C. at the atmospheric Sixth and I Synogogue on Wednesday night. I rushed from the Chinatown metro through the wet streets—busier than usual for a rainy Wednesday night, crawling with red-shirted Capitols fans— because it was my first concert at Sixth and I, and I was psyched to finally see a show at the unique venue. Its stained-glass windows, orange electric candlelights and chandeliers, cushioned pews all set the mood for an acoustic night. It was an older crowd interspersed with twenty-somethings, mostly females, who were excited for Tunstall.
It must be said, that if KT Tunstall is extremely credible— couldn’t she score better openers? First act, Miggs (I think??) weren’t terrible but were forgettable, aside from a weird song introduction when the lead singer gave a nod to 9/11. Something about how we’re all just towers burning, at a slow pace, so we might as well go down with a smile. But he dedicated the song to his kid? Hm. Then one perceptive bystander compared the second opener, Robert Francis, to Aldous Snow from Forgetting Sarah Marshall… pretty spot-on, except this guy was much less sexual and taking himself more seriously. Dirty white t-shirt, greased back hair, overly dramatic strumming, bad stories (he called Annapolis “Annopolis” and the whole crowd corrected him… yughh), and painfully cheesy song lyrics (particularly “Darkness be my friend tonight” which got stuck in my head a little bit). There were also some notable heckler exchanges:
“I like to play uplifting songs.” Heckler: “BUT YOU DIDN’T!?”
“How much time do I have left?” Heckler: “NONE!”
“Hmm.. okay.. guess I have time for one more. What should I play?” Heckler: “A SHORT ONE!”
BUT he did have loyal fans up front who were shouting out requests, singing along and cheering enthusiastically. So, there ya go, good for him. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt… maybe the all-acoustic performance took him out of his element.
But on to KT, who brought new life to the synagogue the second she took to the stage at 9:47pm with a vivacious kick-jump (!) and pose. Her deliciously raspy voice went on to say how thrilled she was to meet the crowd that sold out her show in 36 hours, and that it’d be just her and her “machine,” a loop station, for the evening (“Only $200… much cheaper than a band,” she mused). The loop station got a lot of action all night, providing not only taps, tempos, and layered guitar to her songs, but also adding snapping, clapping, clicking, pretty harmonies and little yells, and at one point… a kazoo. The looper enhanced so many of the night’s performances that I might now expect one at every acoustic show I attend.
Two favorites of the night were the opener “(Still A) Weirdo” from her newest album Tiger Suit, and the more recognizable yet also lovely “Other Side of the World,” which both sound so much better live. Most of her stuff actually sounds better live; and that’s meant to be a compliment. In honor of this solo tour, KT Tunstall also recorded completely new material on an EP with just some finger-picking and sweet melodies on top, a style she admitted that she had not tackled in quite some time. The effect of these new songs was a very intimate one at 6th and I, where she played “Scarlet Tulip” (the title track of the new EP), “Patience,” and “Alchemy,” the last of which had never been performed before and was particularly charming. The new EP will certainly diverge from her very electric recent album, but the change should be welcomed— KT shines acoustically.
The predictable crowd-pleasers of the night were “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See,” which got everyone up and dancing for the encore (and who doesn’t like old white people dancing!). How much I actually loved these songs on Wednesday night surprised me. Maybe because experiencing a live performance of “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree” is nothing like hearing it overplayed on the radio five years ago… She got the loop station going with the “Woo-hoo”s, the crowd clapping, her foot stomping. She also pulled out A KAZOO to add “Seven Nation Army” to the already lush loop of stomping and clapping, then welcomingly sang some of its lyrics before smoothly transitioning back into “you’re not the one for me yeah-yeah-yeah.” IT WAS GREAT. She threw up her arms at the end to proclaim, “RIP WHITE STRIPES!”
So— KT totally lived up to the hype of her live shows, and her North American solo tour is definitely worth checking out, no matter who the openers are. Her voice was a little shot by the end of the night, most likely because she went all out on every song. But when I accidentally exited out the wrong doors to get to 6th street and ran right into KT Tunstall in an empty lobby, fresh from her performance (she’s tiny, by the way), she looked up and beamed with a raspy “Hiii!” I just yelped “thank you!” and ran away like a scared little girl, but the point is— she’s awesome.
Setlist (*new songs):
- Still A Weirdo
- Uummannaq Song
- Miniature Disasters
- Other Side of the World
- *Scarlet Tulip
- Little Favours
- Black Horse and a Cherry Tree
- Stoppin the Love
- Fade Like a Shadow
- Suddenly I See
- Through the Dark