Live Music

Elizabeth Fraser at Bath Pavilion, 2012

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Posted on 6th August 2012

Elizabeth Fraser

Bath Pavilion

Saturday, August 4, 2012

 Elizabeth Fraser has acquired a reputation of quirky reclusiveness and shaky self-confidence ever since the collapse of the Cocteau Twins in the late 90s. There may be basis for this, but it is certainly not to be found in her music and performance. With a small but perfectly formed band, she put on a flawless nearly two hour concert that had the overflowing audience's unwavering attention from the beginning through the two ecstatically demanded encores. There would have been more if the crowd had its way.

The rapt attention was entirely musically driven. Ms Fraser just stands there, partially obscured by a music stand, mic in hand, never speaking to to the audience, and sings. And does she sing — like no other. In the Cocteaus, she created a style entirely her own that seemingly owes no debt to any person or genre. Much of what makes it so unique arises from her own abilities. She is able to make great intervalic leaps, swoops and scalar runs with ease and never a slip of pitch. Her range is stunning. All from a person with no formal training – it makes sense, that. Her singing is intimate and quietly rendered, perhaps even more so than when she was younger. Some of the songs, like Bluebell Knoll*, come out less brash than the original; closer, more personal.

Her songwriting is equally iconoclastic and deceptively complex with unexpected chord changes, key changes even, in the midst of songs, and a tremendous sense of melody, all creating a sense of internal drama in each song. She is a wise crafter of songs.

But the adoring audience that seems to have come from the entire West of Britain knows all this, greeting each familiar song with cheers. It is a mark of either the sophistication of the Cocteau fan base, or the quality of Ms Fraser's new and newer songs – or both – that their enthusiasm, attention and applause does not diminish when new songs appear. There are plenty of Cocteau Twins songs, most drawn from Bluebell Knoll and Heaven or Las Vegas, and a number of new songs, eight out of the 18 performed, by my count.

The band – drums, bass, guitar and keyboard – also includes two female backup vocalists that chime in beautifully, mostly singing the amazing contrapuntal parts that would originally have been Elizabeth overdubs and harmonies. It's all very subtle and, especially on the new songs, adds a slight classical edge to the sound. The band, with the aid of some computer programming, creates a big, lush blend of sound with creamy smooth Frippish guitar running through it.

It was a triumphant night of music that could only have been created by a woman sure of her transcendent abilities and even surer of her absolutely unique vision.

Charley Dunlap

*(emended and edited Aug 6 1:20pm)

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