Cate Le Bon – The Bullingdon, Oxford – 17/12/16
Le Bon has managed in her 8 years of writing, performing and recording, to create a transparent but palpable bubble around herself and her music. It would appear you either know Le Bon intimately and obsessively or not at all. Her releases have without exception challenged and provoked her loyal fan base as she evolves as a musician. It can be hard to maintain momentum when shot to stardom, becoming something of an overnight sensation as Le Bon was. But her records to date prove to be continual reminder that Le Bon has the tenacity and the desire to keep making solid, coherent releases. Her latest, and the album she is currently touring, Crab Day is no different, receiving a warm critical reception and finishing the year as Q magazines 16th best album of the year, an admirable feat for a self proclaimed awkward, shy girl from Carmarthenshire.
Her performance at a packed to the rafters Bullingdon conveys exactly what you would expect from a consummate and now stylistically settled artist, her ability to build a relationship with her audience is apparent from the offset and it’s so beautifully refreshing to witness the mediative state she orchestrates with her stripped back and gentile approach to live music. There’s always enough going on to keep the audience occupied aurally but never so much that it loses the distinct and meticulous melodies in the mix.
The tightness and structural precision of her band allows Le Bon to drift off into Cate world, her eyes fixated on the ceiling and her voice flittering about in a dreamlike state, making comparisons to her namesake, Kate Bush, impossible to ignore. In between tracks we are treated to the genuine humble and deferential nature of Le Bon, who consistently thanks her audience for their presence and seems intent on repaying their loyalty with an all encompassing set of non genre specific delights. She even just about pulls off a usually slightly cringeworthy Christmas song which thankfully lands better than most.
Often when young performers come through Oxford displaying a slight naivety towards their live performance, one wishes they could watch a Le Bon set and learn from a most assured but enigmatic performer. Less can indeed be more as long as the performance contains the conviction and personality Le Bon squeezes into her set and it’s a fitting way to end a year filled with an incredible depth and breathe of live music with such a pleasingly subtle show.