The Gig: Zoë Keating
Where: Cabaret du Mile-End, Montréal, QC
When: 8 November 2011
In One Word: Captivating
Walking into Zoë Keating’s show at Cabaret du Mile-End at first brought back anxious memories of the first gig I ever shot, which was also a sit-down, classical affair. A total greenhorn, I broke every rule in the concert photographer’s book: I used flash. I stood in front of (seated!) people, for far longer than I needed to. I shot beyond the first three songs – for the entire show, in fact. I made a right nuisance of myself, and I would’ve punched me given the chance (and time machine); so – don’t do what I done, kids. But I’ve come a long way since then: I’m far better mannered this time around, being overly conscious of the noise of the shutter clicking, so at least I’ve learned something. Also, this being the age of affordable DSLRs, there’s at least two audience members with cameras in the front, so if I’m annoying anyone, it’s more likely because I’m in their shot… which is slightly more forgivable, I guess?
Having been first turned on to Keating’s music by a tweet from Neil Gaiman, her music is easy to fall in love with. Using a MIDI foot pad and a laptop to record and play back music as she goes, she’s essentially an orchestra unto herself, if that orchestra were playing the score to a hallucinatory Hiyao Miyazaki epic (instead of the usual saccharine Japanese pop that gets piped in to the trailers/credits.. ugh) or maybe any of the Qatsi series. Many of her pieces certainly have that intense strain of symphonic urgency that you find on soundtracks – and she has scored or contributed to a few – with layered breathless spaces that evoke woodland fairy tale chase scenes in some kind of otherworld. Her lush soundscapes pull the audience in through the story, with both timid pluckings and eerie sawing evoking a delicate mystery, making for a mesmerizing experience; it’s hard to believe so much music can be created by only one person, technical realities notwithstanding. I was mightily impressed the first time I heard her, but to hear it live it’s quite captivating.
Despite a professed bout of stage fright early in her career, Keating is shyly chatty and doesn’t hesitate to crowd-source some jokes to be told while she tunes up between songs, or to occasionally explain what narratives played a part in the making of some of her songs. Especially touching was “Optimist”, played towards the end of the evening, which she wrote for her son just before he was born; the song is so named because “Having a kid is the ultimate statement of optimism… so, here’s to the future.” And what then follows is part blessing, part lullaby, a whispered dream guided by a simple heartbeat striking of the bow on the strings. Her music soars from vibrant lucidity through shadier terrain, like a heroine’s trip through fairyland, her deft handling of the symmetry between technology and talent making the journey unforgettable.
© Liz Keith, Music Vice
Pictures of Zoë Keating in Montreal by Liz Keith: