Eliza Shaddad – The Castle Hotel, Manchester – 01/04/16

It’s been almost a year and a half since Eliza Shaddad’s last tour. At the tail-end of 2014 the London based singer-songwriter presented the reflective, meditative material from her debut EP Waters during remarkable solo shows supporting the brilliant Strand of Oaks. These searingly emotional performances were quickly followed by a UK wide tour with her band, which added a bolder dynamic to the Waters material that was no less intoxicating. Fast forward to 2016 and Eliza has hit the road again with a new collection of songs including material from her latest EP, Run. The record has been receiving rave reviews in the UK and beyond thanks to Zane Lowe in particular pushing the record on Apple’s Beats 1 radio. There is a definite shift in tone both musically and thematically to the record and the promise of further new material destined for a debut album meant that this was a show not to be missed.

Nathaniel Scott AKA The Bear Around Your Neck gets the evening under way in a suitably tenebrific manner. The Manchester-based singer-songwriter mines fuzzy, psychedelic depths during his short set and versatile vocals, which possess a rich energy which Suede fans may recognise. They contribute significantly to a grungy tone which is creatively established on the acoustic guitar through imaginative tuning and deft finger-picking, all delivered via a gloriously distorted Orange amp.

De Montevert are next to grace The Castle Hotel’s small stage. Hailing from Stockholm, the young band, led by vocalist Ellinor Nilsson, produce a stunning set that appears to surprise everyone with its broad range of emotions, layers and textures. The portentous atmosphere is certainly maintained in the songwriting but the provocatively subtle lo-fi foundations occasionally fracture as spiky emotions explode around the room like a hand grenade. The set is a raw and utterly gripping delight!

As if to make a point about the thematic shifts inherent within the new material, Eliza Shaddad opens with the bleak Make it Go Away. Starting the evening with the most melancholy song she’s ever written proves to be a particularly prudent decision for all involved; the evening is heavy with evocative imagery but it doesn’t get as desolate as “I’ve seen nothing but sheets of grey, sliding over us for days”. Mournful and intense and perfectly suited to the intimate and reassuring space inside the packed venue this evening, at least we’re not going to get this stark again, are we?

When We restores a degree of balance to proceedings as the warm tones and subtle drums mollify the severity of the previous track. Wars simmers aggressively though, reviving the palpable darkness of the new material before a couple of new songs demonstrate Eliza’s more discordant approach musically which is tempered by her distinctively rich, graceful vocals. It’s particularly thrilling stuff that is once again balanced by a return to older, more meditative material in the form of Alright Again and A Good Man.

 The setlist tonight is certainly spot on as we are taken on this journey, twisting and contorting, expertly balancing the more aggressive honesty of the new material with the reflective and sombre pitch of older songs. Compelling evidence of the cathartic nature of Eliza Shaddad’s new songs is actually revealed in a track’s absence. You for Me is the closing track from the debut EP and is the most perfect love song I have ever heard but its heart-felt poignancy certainly has no place in this setlist. Run appears to have taken its place, which demands that you “Run from me far and fast as you can, before I ruin you”. It’s a brutal shift in tone suggesting that the evening’s entertainment was a dispiriting affair but the performance from Eliza and her band is joyous at times and full of humour in-between the lyrical purges making this another perfect evening at The Castle Hotel.