Kimbra. I would kill to see her live. Listening to her on my iPod just isn’t cutting it anymore. Each time I hear “Good Intent,” a swanky, chilling tune, I know there’s probably a hundred more interesting versions out there, somehow emerging spontaneously from Kimbra’s brilliant brain. Here’s a good measure of her originality: listen first to her big hit “Settle Down” (and watch the gorgeously creepy music video on repeat) and then try to wrap your head around this live solo performance:
Her use of looping and samplers is certainly not new. I’ve just never seen anyone navigate that technology so swiftly and effectively. She uses similar effects in her cover of Nina Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring,” a performance that will likely drag you down a Kimbra YouTube rabbit hole (guilty). “Settle Down” is a cunning, often hilarious song – “Won’t you raise a child with me, raise a child? We’ll call her Nebraska… Nebraska Jones” – and its undercurrent of savage domestic hunger is enhanced by the stunning a cappella beat-drops in the above video. The performance feels so raw and uncontrived, but upon multiple viewings her sprezzatura becomes gloriously apparent. Every moment of this rendition has been polished thoroughly, yet she still has time to do her weird, arthritic hand motions.
I love this beautiful video too (the creative director was Natalie Johns), especially the shot of the audience member freaking out when Kimbra starts singing – the song is almost unrecognizable from its studio recording, and my initial reaction upon hearing this was similarly wowed. When she removes her cardigan, it’s like a sudden, spontaneous metamorphosis due to too much badassery. I also love how, like Adele or Fiona Apple, Kimbra emerges as from a trance after her focused performance, a dorkier, far less intense person. Everyone at the Spotify House seems too busy filming on their smart phones to really be jamming with her, but maybe they’re just gobsmacked by the sounds emerging from this bizarre-looking stick of a woman.
There’s something noble, almost, about an artist more comfortable and creative live than in the studio. Artists like Kimbra may never fully top the charts (which I consider a good thing) because they they fit in best at backyard concerts, coffee shops, and trashy bars. My favorite Kimbra song is her perforamnce of “Two Way Street” at Sing Sing Studios, and when I finally heard the album version, it sounded aimless and forgettable. Impeccable studio engineering is impressive and all, but some musicians have far more command between a single microphone and their giant, lipsticked mouth.