Lisa Germano
Cappella Bonajuto, Catania, Italy
May 3, 2007

As I'm sure I've already written elsewhere, I'm always amazed by the fact that artists like Syd Barrett and Nick Drake get to be highly celebrated (and rightly so, let's have this one clear, OK?) to the point where they become objects of empty hype (but, their being "dead and mad", maybe this comes with the territory?) while Lisa Germano's albums languish in (relative) obscurity. This is especially strange when one considers the fact that many of the things that when it comes to her are considered to be faults - from "too much depression" to "lack of variety" - elsewhere are seen as positive qualities. Meanwhile, though it's obvious that there's something quite easy to recognize in her music, I think that her albums have clearly demonstrated a process of growth - and besides, when somebody manages to maintain her identity even on an album produced by Tchad Blake, well, if that's "personality" we are talking about, that's saying something.

So as soon as I got the news of a concert in my town I went and bought my ticket. Turns out the show will be held in Cappella Bonajuto: an ancient chapel located below street level that remained miraculously intact even after the terrible earthquake of... (this part I try not to think too much about). The Chapel in question holding only about 100, the local promoter makes the right choice by adding a second show later the same night (both go immediately sold-out, so one wonders whether, in a bigger hall...). We get the royal treatment, with luxurious chairs and a P.A. that actually works - all things which make me forget about the weird acoustics of the Chapel, and its extreme humidity.

Before the concert I meet - and briefly chat with - a friendly American guy who turns out to be a member of Trumans Water. I mistake him for a member of Lisa Germano's backing band - after all, there's a Fender Telecaster just waiting to be played - while in fact he's here do the live mix. After the concert, while going out, I compliment him for a work well done. "It wasn't easy", he tells me, "this place is really weird, with lotsa reflections; I usually use something on her voice - like a bit of delay - but here it just wasn't possible".

On stage, I see a Roland RD700 (sampled) piano; the Tele (with more than a trace of rust on its bridge); a Fender Twin tube amp for guitar; a Peavey five string bass (turns out to be the one Sebastian Steinberg will use for the concert), a Gallien & Krueger head and an Ampeg 15" enclosure; and a tiny, but functional, Electro Voice P.A.

They come onstage, and they start. They open the concert with Nobody's Playing, off Lullaby For Liquid Pig, and it's a perfect opener, of course: solemn, austere, it gets the crowd (well, all 100-plus) in the right mood. Tonight the bulk of the repertory comes from her most recent albums, with Nobody's Playing, Paper Doll, Pearls, Dream Glasses Off, and From A Shell off Lullaby For Liquid Pig (2003); and The Day, Too Much Space, Golden Cities, In The Land Of Fairies, In The Maybe World, and Red Thread off In the Maybe World (2006).

Most of the night she stays at the piano, with just a few songs - for instance, Small Heads, off Excerpts From A Love Circus (1996), which here works as a "light moment" - on the Tele. We also get Wood Floors, and Guillotine off Slide (1998); two numbers - If I Think Of Love, and It's A Rainbow - off Slush (1997), the album she recorded with Giant Sand under the collective name of OP8; and one "oldie", The Darkest Night Of All, off Happiness (1994), which she introduces saying something which sounds like "I composed this piece in a period when... no, I prefer not to remember".

I have to say I'm impressed. Given the strange acoustics (and the lack of effects) her voice comes out really great... It sounds just like the record! She always sounds as an artist playing and singing her songs, nor as somebody who's lost in a dream (sometimes reviewers just try a bit too hard, you know what I mean?). Those part-folk, part-classical, part-sinister lullaby, arias appear very clearly in front of us. Her piano playing is of a piece with her vocals, with the electric bass in a supporting role.

At times the tension gets really unbelievable (no easy feat for music that should really be listened to when one's alone), so thick that even a moment when she fumbles a passage on the piano goes by unregistered. Of course, sometimes people don't seem to realize that appreciative silence can be the best feedback an artist can possibly get, and so at the end of It's A Rainbow, she says "The song goes "Alcoholic, alcoholic", and they go "Yeah!!!"", with a sense of puzzlement, and that's what the language barrier can do for you. But she's quite in a serene mood, even wondering at the end of the concert whether "I rushed a bit, knowing that I have to play another concert in a short while". But no, she didn't.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2007 | May 8, 2007