A.A. Williams/Karin Park – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 13.11.22
Think its worth addressing the elephant if the room at the start. It can only be a very good thing indeed that this gig, and indeed the tour it is the beginning of, features two women with such singular voices, pursuing their own very distinct artistic paths. The one, already two decades into a career, confidently deconstructing her past to form a new voice for the future; the other quietly building a presence and reputation over the last three years for music that fuses power and grandeur with sensuality and fragility in a balancing act that few artists manage to pull off.
Karin Park’s (7) latest album, Private Collection, is mainly a selection of songs from her past albums that have been reworked to fit a more stripped back, minimalist style that relies almost wholly on synthesizers and electronics. The new approach transfers well to a live setting as the impossibly tall and elegant Park, hemmed in by a wedge of keyboards and effects boxes and with nothing more than three large spherical lamps on stands as stage adornment, delivers a short set that throws the spotlight emphatically on her songs and her remarkable voice. Fortunately both can easily stand the exposure.
Opener Traces Of Me (the only new composition on the album) is simpler arrangement than the album version but is a good showcase for Park’s unconventional melodic structures. The set includes most of the standout songs from the album: Opium is narcotically erotic; Bending Albert’s Law plays with the idea of amending the laws of time and space to restore an absent lover to your side, or to resurrect a dead loved one to ease a yawning absence, however briefly; the teasingly autobiographical Blue Roses, with which Park accompanies herself on a genuine, 100-year-old Swedish organ. The pulsing electronica of Tokyo By Night almost runs away from Park as she briefly loses track of the button and box pushing sequence. The set is far too short.
A.A. Williams (8) and band take the cramped stage without any ceremony and launch into the sweeping opening fanfare of Hollow Heart, also the opening track from latest album As The Moon Rests. The song alternates between quiet passages that frame Williams’s fragile but rich melodies and lyrics, and reprises of the opening theme. In truth this sets the pattern for most of the songs in the set, which are mostly drawn from the new album, and given the uniformly languid pace of the music, it could be said that the songs lack dynamism and don’t have much in the way of nervous tension. But, once you’ve keyed into the warm enveloping noise the band create its hard not to be buoyed up by its sensuous caress.
The downside of this is that while the live versions of the songs are much noisier than the recorded versions, Williams’s voice often gets lost in the maelstrom of guitars and effects. In this context, its worth pointing out that drummer Wayne Proctor makes a significant contribution to the dynamism and drama of the songs. While the guitars and voices wail away, Proctor’s deceptively simple style punctuates and propels the songs to sometimes devastating effect, the extended coda of Pristine being a prime example.
The set concludes with the majestically, achingly epic title track of the new album, destined to become a set staple no doubt, and Melt from Williams’s 2020 debut album which has more or less become her signature tune. The heavy reliance on the new album for the songs in this set suggests Williams is keen not to rest on her laurels and keep moving forward. This can only be a good thing.