Madeleine Peyroux, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Wednesday November 27th ****
What a difference a decade makes. The first time American singer Madeleine Peyroux appeared in Edinburgh following the success of her breakthrough album, Careless Love, she stood awkwardly in front of the audience with apologetic body language and the embarrassed expression of a little girl who’s been forced to perform.
The Peyroux who stood before the packed Usher Hall on Wednesday was almost unrecognisable as the same person. She held her own onstage, and cracked jokes with the audience – mostly on the same, drinking, theme as the many of her songs. Accompanied by her trio, plus a string quartet, she dished up a mix of numbers from her current CD, The Blue Room, plus that first album and its follow-up.
A grand concert hall is not the ideal setting for a singer whose style is so intimate and whose appeal is very personal and direct. Yes, she filled the Usher Hall with her wonderfully characterful and imperfect voice on Wednesday and was well appreciated, but in a smaller venue (such as Ronnie Scott’s, where she played a similar programme in the spring), she was able to mesmerise the punters, lock eyes with them, draw them in – very much a la Piaf – and to leave them emotionally destroyed.
On Wednesday night’s Desperados Under the Eaves, she came close – we were hungry for it – but there was just too much distance between her, the dot on stage, and us. Those elements which made her Ronnie Scott’s performance a five-star, unforgettable, experience got lost in the translation to a big hall – though she (and the lighting designer) did an impressive job of creating as intimate an atmosphere as the venue would allow.
First published in The Herald, Friday November 29th