MOSAIC MUSIC WEEKEND
The Wild Sea: A Double Bill with Lisa Hannigan and Patrick Wolf
Esplanade Concert Hall/Yesterday
As part of the Esplanade's Mosaic Music Weekend, Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan was paired with London-born Patrick Wolf in an exclusive double-bill presentation for Singapore.
But this was not a marriage of convenience. While their performances should be appreciated separately - since the artists neither indicated they were well acquainted nor obliged with a duet onstage - they complemented each other well in terms of their folk-music sensibilities.
Just after 7.30pm, Wolf emerged on the dim stage of the concert hall armed with a violin to duel with violinist and frequent collaborator Victoria Sutherland in an instrumental piece, Epilogue.
This merged seamlessly into Wolf Song (from his 2002 album, Lycanthropy), where the British singer-songwriter's intense, searing vocals were accompanied by his piano playing and the continuing presence of Sutherland's skilful violin backing.
This sparse set-up, with Wolf alternating between piano and guitar, evoked the stripped-down feel of Sundark And Riverlight, his 2012 album featuring acoustic re-reworking of previously recorded songs.
But caught up within the live atmosphere, he sometimes slipped into animalistic howls (as on Bluebells and Augustine) that veered beyond pitch-perfection into emotive discordance.
Were these occasional out-of-tune, out-of-sync transgressions intentional? After Wolf paused and restarted the performance of Hard Times, broke his guitar strings, and tipped over a violin propped up on the floor, the audience should have figured out that genuine blunders were made.
By then, it was easy to forgive Wolf - especially after he had shaken up his earlier sombre persona and charmed the audience with self-deprecating banter between songs. For example, he recounted his younger years of scrapping for discarded vegetables and fruits in London's Brixton district before launching rather aptly into a composition called Pigeon Song.
The melodious closer House and the rousing encore of The Magic Position ended his 70-minute set on an upbeat note.
After a half-hour intermission, Hannigan appeared at 9.15pm in a black dress to a more rapturous reception. She launched into a solo rendition of Little Bird which she delivered effortlessly with a guitar.
From her second song, Prayer For The Dying, onwards, she was joined by her band consisting of Cormac Curran (piano and keyboard), Caimin Gilmore (double bass) and Ross Turner (drums). The stage was transformed into an intimate jazz club - a perfect setting for her brand of indie folk with shades of jazz and soul.
Compared to Wolf's set, Hannigan's gig proceeded slickly with less drama and fewer missteps, though she did apologise for stumbling over the lyrics for Paper House due to jet-lag.
Less soul-baring in her chitchat, she was however effusive in praise for Singapore which she, like Wolf, was visiting for the first time.
While Wolf's emotion-laden Baroque folk-pop fitted the double bill's "Wild Sea" title better, Hannigan did try to allude to the oceanic theme with tracks like Ora and We; The Drowned from her just-released album At Swim; and the hit single Lille from her Mercury Prize-nominated 2008 debut, Sea Sew.
Ranging from lilting and angelic on the slower heartrending melodies to raspy on a rollicking number like Knots, Hannigan's voice was easy to fall for. In an encore after her hour-long set, she performed Passenger with her own banjo accompaniment, before wrapping up with another fast track, Lo, with her band.
While the night's repertoire might not have conjured a phantasmagoria of wild thrashing waves, the haunting undercurrent of love and longing in Hannigan's well-crafted songs was proof that she - after finding fame as the female voice on the albums of Irish troubadour Damien Rice - has come a long way into her own.