CocoRosie, Light Asylum
Chalk and cheese can indeed go together. Opera and nursery rhymes. A stage set like Fisher-Price in a nursery school. Artlessness and love
Who knows how we find musicians to love and I've no idea where my affection for CocoRosie came from. They're a long way left of field and I've confused the hell out of friends forcing them to either listen on the car stereo or get out on the motorway. Just occasionally the shock therapy worked and a new convert was had. Be warned though, there is little middle ground. They don't repay a casual listen, you'll need full attention, and even then you could end up left cold no matter how much others love them.
Tonight was an all too very rare UK gig. I've seriously thought about getting over to Europe just to see them, but scattering a few dates around their ATP performance saved my euros.
Who are they? Two sisters is who, Sierra and Bianca, nicknamed Rosie and Coco respectively by their mother, American of impeccable hippy heritage. The story goes that when she was 18 Sierra took off for NYC and then Paris to study to be an opera singer, and sort of lost touch with her sister, resulting in separate development. Roll forward five years and Bianca found Sierra in Paris. The two of them immediately immersed themselves in joint music, locking themselves away and coming up with what would turn into debut album La Maison De Mon Rêve. The results were, and remain, a startling mix of styles supported by music often made on found objects. It should clash, sometimes it does, but it's never less than spine tingling
Tonight was in Manchester Cathedral, a lovely setting and part of a growing trend of getting us out of dingy halls. The audience, and I say it with affection and as one of them, were either Guardian readers or their student children. Nando's mis-timing of our pre-gig meal meant that we got there at exactly the right moment to stroll up and claim the last front row spot on the barrier. Serendipity.
The stage was set like a playroom, the drum kit looking more like an art trolley. This theme was carried on when the band got on stage, Sierra and Bianca both in long smocks, Sierra in pyjama pants and Bianca in some sort of boiled wool head dress like a judge's wig. By now the place was full but despite this felt all night like there were playing to about six of us. As they came on, they were accompanied by looping flickering lights projected on stage which persisted throughout the evening.
The first song 'God Has A Voice' was a simple vocal duet and as it ended Bianca lay down on the stage while her sister did the next number alone. We then got onto the treat that was the full band, human beat box, drummer playing that wheeled trolley that included bits of heating duct alongside bells and chimes, some fine piano that when let fly had a great jazzy air.
The sound suited this ethereal space and filled it. The sisters sound very distinct, even when both going somewhere similar with the girly wispy voices that are particularly Bianca's trademark. When Sierra let go with that operatic voice though, it all made perfect sense. Remember Pavarotti on Miss Sarajevo? Tonight was that and more, constant fusion and friction, the rub that makes it pleasurable.
We got to 'Fatherhood' where the sisters sang "Every man's a bastard" ..... "we watched our father walk away" - reflections of their life even if they did reconcile with him later, it made me sad for them. This was the point where Bianca came to the fore, taking up equal force alongside her sister and showing that her kooky little voice could carry across a cathedral just as well as opera. Despite the sadness of the song, this was when I really saw just how happy they looked together, and how pleased to be here if the smiles and sisterly hugs are any indication.
'Happy Eyes' really brought the human beat box element to the fore, while the words tell of Wee Willie Winkie being "tired and blinky". CocoRosie so much more knowing and sophisticated than at first appears, clever deception. No, that's too strong a word, but this is a band that have all the affect of innocent kids dressing up at gran's house, while singing of "memories of porno" and other things less than child-like.
At a moment of quiet, an audience request carried across to the stage, for 'Smokey Taboo' which made Sierra look up, smile and immediately start playing it on the wheezy squeezebox contraption. A song or two later, my own particular favourite, 'Animals' from the Ghosthorse and Stillborn album, somehow combining elements of rap, that beatbox again, scratches and noises of toys and bells. When the moments aren't so quiet, Sierra is inclined to dancing, shimmying, shaking and whirlling, while Bianca is more likely to hover near her special effects trolley of toys and cassette players and other musical objects.
'Turn Me On' finds Bianca caught in thrall of some memory, squeezing her eyes shut, clawing her hands and tugging at the hem of her smock. 'Grey Oceans', title track of the new album, is most affecting tonight, the concept of watching herself on an old TV, while there is gentle subversion in the idea of "German Shepherds" guarding children ("Kinder") at nightfall
By the time we get to the finale of 'Tranny Power', they have been off stage and come back. Bianca is wearing some sort of military hat while Sierra has pulled a tutu over everything else, giving her the ability to whirl herself into a frenzy until a final athletic kick leaves her lying on the floor and brings it all to an end
They've still got a few UK dates before heading back to Belgium, Holland and France
God Has A Voice
Moon Asked The Crow
By Your Side
Turn Me On
Promise / Tranny Power
More photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/38617244@N04/sets/72157624017656442/