An Iain Fox review:
I’d like to provide some of the context that led to me attending this show in Birmingham. Several weeks ago I was at The Deaf Institute in Manchester to see Strand of Oaks. It goes without saying that Timothy Showalter and co delivered a killer show full of passion and unbridled energy, but on this occasion it was the support act that made the biggest impression on me. Eliza Shaddad may have emerged on the radar to some because of her association with Clean Bandit, but a recent conversation I had with the London-based singer-songwriter revealed that her true passion has always been her solo material. Vastly different to Clean Bandit’s quirky pop, it was these songs that mesmerised the audience in Manchester that night, and when I heard that she was touring with a full band only a few weeks later, I jumped at the opportunity to go along and photograph the show. Unable to make the Manchester gig at The Fallow Cafe, the alternative was a hundred mile round trip to Birmingham straight after work on a Friday night. Needless to say, the show was equally entrancing and worth every minute spent stuck on the M6.
The Ort Cafe in Moseley is a small arts venue that caters for local poets and writers, as well as more established musicians, but upon arrival I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place at all. A small makeshift bar greets me as I walk in, behind which is a large pan of chili or stew bubbling away on an old stove. At first I don’t spot it, but in the corner of the room is the tiny performance area and this is surrounded by old kitchen chairs and threadbare couches. This is the definition of intimate, but then again, this would be the perfect term to use when describing Eliza’s songs.
Eliza Shaddad arrives to gracious applause and once again I am astonished by the sincerity in her songs and the beauty in her voice as she launches into material from latest EP Waters released at the end of spring. The room is full, the crowd an eclectic mix of young and old, yet all are completely bewitched by the stark narratives inherent within her music. There is a difference this time though. Her songs are delivered with a bolder demeanor it seems, surrounded by trusted friends and colleagues who help provide more thrust and bite to these personal compositions, compared to the more stripped down affair witnessed in The Deaf Institute. The evening is not without it’s frustrations however. A few inconsiderate individuals seem determined to sabotage the hypnotic spell Eliza appears to cast as the show progresses, and their inane chatter proves particularly hard to ignore against the backdrop of such subtle, delicate songs. I was particularly astonished to discover upon turning around that it was members of the local support band who had performed earlier in the evening.
Despite this unexpected display of ignorance, there was still some real highlights to come. The first arrived in the form of new track ‘Walrus’. Catchy and more up beat in tempo than previous material, the song gets it’s hooks in the listener and the rhythms offered by the rest of the band ensure we’re not released until the very end. ‘Alright Again’ is a sombre affair, fragile to the core and delivered with such sincerity and poise. Eliza gently caresses the strings of her guitar over the emotional, melancholy lyrics and the effect is captivating. Despite her propensity to lean towards the slightly darker side of human nature in her songwriting, Eliza Shaddad’s most perfect song at present is also one of the most satisfying love songs I have ever heard. ‘You for Me’ isn’t cloying or sickly-sweet. In Eliza’s hands in this tiny cafe in Birmingham the song becomes poignant, heart-felt and incredibly moving without being overbearing, allowing the listener to reflect upon their own lives and experiences, becoming lost in the moment. This is what these venues are made for and at present, Eliza’s music fits perfectly into these surroundings. I’m sure venues of this capacity won’t suffice for long though and it will be fascinating to see how this young musician’s music evolves, for Eliza’s star is rising.