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Chrysta Bell (live at The Oslo Club)

Chrysta Bell live at Oslo - pic: Elaine KingettLondon
11 April 2014

There’s probably an argument to be made that talking about Chrysta Bell in terms of David Lynch is lazy, but that’s what I’m going to do, at least at first. The reasons for this are threefold – first, having not only produced her album but co-written it with her, he casts a pretty long bequiffed shadow over the music. Second, at a gig plugged as “David Lynch presents,” which begins with an intro video of the man himself doing the spoken intro to “Bird Of Flames,” I think it’s fair game. And third, I am indeed quite lazy. So, y’know…

Instead of starting with “Bird Of Flames,” the band pull a switcheroo and kick straight into “Real Love,” a much more kick-ass piece with which to begin a show. If “Bird Of Flames” is the transcendent ending to Inland Empire or Wild At Heart, “Real Love” plunges us straight into Fire Walk With Me‘s Pink Room, all grinding bass and relentless lounge drums, sleazy, seductive and a little bit spooky. And over it all is that voice. Freed from the constraints of a plastic disc, it’s more playful live, taking risks and little detours, dancing around the songs with perfect precision. Pitched at some notional mid-point between Amy Winehouse and Julee Cruise, Bell oscillates between Mulholland Drive naïf and Blue Velvet femme fatale with ease, strapping on a guitar to cross the line between passive and active like the skin between worlds, with the occasional touch of (just to break with continuity here a moment) Jarboe on the more sustained notes.

Chrysta Bell live at Oslo - pic: Elaine Kingett

Her live set shows a widening of focus, featuring new material written both with Lynch and without, all of which slots neatly into that drifting, dreamlike ambiance without repeating what’s gone before. The band themselves are pleasingly smart and tight, visually hinting at just the right level of disreputability to kid us into thinking we’re actually in a smoky underground club somewhere surrounded by dangerous people, instead of a roomful of hipsters. You keep expecting them to fade away to invisibility while the music plays on, and to turn round to see an extreme close-up of someone crying. In slow motion.

In short, although she rocks out a lot more on stage than on CD, it still all feels very much like a dream. And like all good dreams, it takes an unexpected twist that manages to insert itself so perfectly into that world that nothing seems out of place. And that twist here is Bell snarling and soaring her way through a storming cover of Nick Cave‘s “Do You Love Me?,” which seems strangely apt; and is a great way to wake up.

Stunning.

Words: -Justin Farrington-
Pictures: -Elaine Kingett-

PS – I may be lazy, but I made it to the end of a whole piece leaning heavily on the œuvre of David Lynch without mentioning dwarves once. Except I just did. OH SHIT.

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