It's hard to pin down Lisa Hannigan’s musical style. She’s a very unpredictable performer. Yet, somehow, that is an effortlessly endearing quality.
Contrary to her folksy image, her approach to both her live performances and recordings is anything but understated. She makes more of an impression at the Mandela Hall this December evening than many excellent indie live acts, even Belle and Sebastian, have managed to do.
With catchy instrumentals, thoughtful lyrics, delightful vocals and a welcoming atmosphere, her performance has everything. There isn’t one moment in her fifteen song set that doesn’t work.
With such talent on show, support act The Ambience Affair have a lot to compete with. And it’s to their credit that, despite their experimental nature, they do an admirable job.
It initially sounds like we’re in for a Blue Tuesday – not very cheery, considering the time of year! – with very New Order-ish techno beats opening their set. But once they settle, we get something that resembles the rawness of very early U2.
The use of two large video screens either side of the stage helps bassist Yvonne Ryan, drummer Marc Gallagher and singer Jamie Clarke convey a message to the crowd.
The only downside is that their material doesn’t really resonate. But it’s good natured, and hopefully with a bit more practice and exposure, their time will come.
By contrast, it only takes a couple of songs – one gentle, one not-so-gentle – for Hannigan and her band to establish themselves. The crowd are spellbound midway through the first number, with the fine lighting and excellent sound helping to set a wonderful mood.
It’s when we come to 'Venn Diagram' and 'Ocean And A Rock', two excellent numbers from debut solo album Sea Sew, that she’s able to use to full range of her talents to brilliant effect. She’s a mistress of all trades, combining her angelic voice with bass, guitar, and a series of 'broken down, wheezy old instruments', as she puts it.
With a fine backing band behind her, it all adds up to an utterly unique performance – Norah Jones with more energy and less pretence.
She dances during 'Ocean And A Rock' and jokes when the pianist hits the right note at the wrong time, before 'O Sleep'. She establishes a real family rapport with the crowd that enables singer, band and audience to all enjoy themselves, especially during the funniest moments of the gig.
There are quite a few of those, like when she mentions her guitarist’s 'amazing ‘tache' before saying that she needs to grow one herself! Or 'Safe Travels, (Don’t Die)' which teaches us a lot about life in her own quirky, comedic manner.
When she hits a high note, it really resonates. And when she waxes nostalgic, for example, during the Louis Armstrong-esque 'Hope', we feel it along with her. This is a performer who clearly has 'all the time in the world' for her audience.
The tone of the set list is absolutely pitch perfect. A great example of this is when Hannigan, realising that we need a breather after the show-stopping 'I Don’t Know', with its layered instrumental harmonies, bouncy rhythm and pensive lyrics, walks on with a cup of tea and sings the title track from her second album Passenger.
By the time Hannigan finishes, with the effervescent 'Knots', she seems somewhat overwhelmed by the rapturous applause she is receiving. It is well-deserved though, so maybe she should get used to the praise.