A month or so ago I awoke first thing to watch a concert performed by Australian singer Sarah Blasko complete with mighty symphony orchestra, beamed live from the Sydney Opera House via the internet. It was quite a spectacle, and coming at us on a Monday morning as we enjoyed breakfast in London, it was as though the world had been turned upside down. Which in a sense it had.
On her fourth solo album now, Blasko is quite the starlet in her homeland, though it’s taking us Europeans a little longer to acquiesce to her undoubted talents (Blasko was actually in a band called Acquiesce before she went solo in 2002). ‘I Awake’, her new album, is the first to be released in the UK, while in France there seems to be a lot of love emanating her way already. Certainly at Cafe de la Danse there is – a venue situated in the heart of Bastille that has seen a dazzling and foreboding array of legends pass through its corridors and onto its stage… David Bowie, Serge Gainsbourg, Joe Strummer, even Genesis P. Orridge… all staring down from the walls.
Such company could be daunting, though Blasko is not to be intimidated. She’s here tonight without the orchestra (those things are expensive to move from country to country), but her band are an able lot. Brushes nimbly stroke la batterie while the double-bass fretwork is balletic at times; it’s in the understated drum and bass where the sound of Sarah Blasko really comes alive, creeping up behind you stealthily before administering a good kicking.
Opener ‘Explain’, taken from her debut ‘What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have’ is an altogether more robust beast trussed up with this rhythmic underbelly, though ultimately it’s Blasko who really makes these songs walk. She moves like a marionette on stage – deliberately at times – and her voice ranges from a smoky hush to an operatic aria – this duality is played out with a pair of microphones, one to communicate with the audience, the other to communicate with god if she so wishes; or dogs even. She soars and swoops like a human theremin nailing notes Matt Bellamy only dreams of.
For the title track Blasko inexplicably pulls out a pair of white gloves and puts them on for the one song. Whether or not there’s a reason for this is not explicit, and it occurs to me that maybe Sarah is a little just on the right side of eccentric. Her pop is noirish and brooding enough, her cabaret dramatic and dark enough to take these well-crafted songs into the realm of the interesting. As marriages go, this bond between commerciality and art is more than one of pure convenience. While Blasko gives her all tonight, she will always retain an air of mystery, and that can only be a good thing. She also bags the hearts of those assembled here to take back with her down under.