Gig review – Liz Stringer at The Soundhouse, Saturday 16th March 2024

Liz Stringer. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

with Amber Clxre and Heather McDowall

Reviewed by Adam Piotrowski

AmberClxre opened the show with confidently funky tunes backed by keys and acoustic guitar. The chemistry was especially strong between Amber and keyboardist Ethan Mugglestone who both studied at Birmingham’s BIMM Music Institute. Clxre was full of sassy strength, singing about love, breakups and the grey area in between.

The final tune they played, Devil and Demons was a jaunty treat which stood apart from the rest, with different rhythmic character.

Amber Clxre. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

Heather McDowall was next, backed by her 3-piece band – with original pop songs as well as a couple of covers including one by CMAT. Heather and her band seemed to gather strength and confidence as they made their way through the night.

At some point they all put on black hats with glittery edges and turned into the B-52’s, Heather busting a move to the grooves on stage. She had an endearing lack of self-consciousness that was refreshing and the more that she had a good time, the more that the audience did as well.

The final song of the performance was the early 90’s banger, What’s Up by the 4 Non-Blondes. The way that the band played it and the way that Heather sang it, as if it was her favourite song of all-time (and it could well have been) made it very enjoyable indeed!

Heather McDowall. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

Liz Stringer was next, a calm but significant presence. On her most recent album, First Time Really Feeling Liz Stringer is ably backed by very tasteful musicians who have a major impact on the songs, cooly building rhythmic layers as well as backing vocals which swoon and swell evoking strong emotions. The beats are steady and pulsating with clean electric guitar providing driving melodies over strummed acoustic guitars.

But any thoughts that Liz couldn’t play an engaging show on her own were quickly dismissed as the first chords of the title track were gently picked and the vocals came in, ‘I’ll call you when it starts to snow, when you’re still deeply breathing, No matter how I come and go, Feels like I’m always leaving.’

The simplicity of an acoustic guitar and single voice on stage, rather than reducing the potential, emphasized the depths of the songs; the guitar playing on a small acoustic was nuanced, enhanced with melodic flourishes that might have been a lead guitar part on the record, accented strokes providing a beat representing what the bass and drums might play. There was none of that prolonged, even, monotonous strumming of chords that you often hear from lesser musicians. In fact, most everything we saw and heard told us that the artist on stage had spent many years honing the craft of songwriting and touring. No switching of guitars, the tiny acoustic played on every song, a simple board with a few pedals and nothing more. It was as if over the years, equipment had been shed when deemed unnecessary, minimising the load, the roadshow lean and strong. She has also shed unnecessary and destructive habits after recently going sober, a topic not shied away from in her lyrics.

Most of the tracks played were from the aforementioned most recent album from 2021, but there were also older tunes including Too Seriously from her supergroup Dyson Stringer Cloher, a joyful romp which she joked left her breathless without support from her singing partners she had in the original. There was also a lone cover, Anders Osbourne’s Tracking My Roots which seemed to appeal to her nature, containing lyrics about that ‘damn addiction’, and searching for roots and meaning across the globe.

In fact, we are lucky to have had Stringer play such a small stage in Leicester. She has released 6 albums in her native Australia, was signed to the now-defunct Milk! Records and in December opened for Jackson Browne on his tour down under (you can read a bit more about approach to her life and art in this interview I did recently). After recording an as-yet-unreleased new album in Camden last summer, the journeywoman has decided to relocate to London. She seems unfazed by the prospect of building up a new audience in the UK, playing a smattering of shows throughout the country in off-the-beaten-track destinations such as Up Holland and Otford along with shows in Camden and York.

Liz Stringer. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

Her voice was deep and strong, the songs pre-empted by a meandering building of context, a conversation at a show with a man who nearly lost everything due to his alcohol abuse issues; a struggle to recognize her native Melbourne after a long period away; ‘the trifecta’ of hate relating to musicians playing at restaurants (you will have to go see her next show if you want to know what that’s all about); Ultimately these musings lead to a deeper appreciation of the songs and we are more clearly able to hear the story-based lyrics without a band whaling away.

There is something beautifully enlightening about the way she plays – most of the songs could easily be described as sad – exploring heartbreak, violence and addiction – but that would be oversimplifying things – there seems to be a hopefulness in her perspective, an appreciation for observances in everyday life, a fearless clarity. Stringer has an independent confidence, an uncanny ability to transcribe complex emotions in a fashion somewhere around pop and folk which sound completely original, timeless and genre-less.

A few points of interest in the set: Little Fears, Little Loves had an honest and open point of view with a cutting and truthful melody; her sunny yellow Australian accent shone through while covering very dark themes on songs like Dangerous. The Metrologist, described by the singer as a conversation with someone she meets who is in the profession of measuring things, a black and white practice that contrasts with the sometimes-chaotic life of a full-time professional musician, the song ending in a release of sorts, a diatribe covering topics such as the frustrations of being a woman in the music industry.

Watch out for Liz Stringer’s new album, which was recorded in London in the summer of 2023 and produced by Beni Giles. At this point no release date has been confirmed. Stringer has said of the album that she wanted to incorporate elements of jazz, funk and soul and played much more keyboard on the recording, many of the songs being written during the pandemic. It seems Stringer is continuing down her own path as she means to go on, independently in her own direction.

Video of Liz Stringer performing one of her songs at the gig:


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