Very few artists can hold their own during a solo concert. Most big name singers and songwriters rely on a backing band for the majority of their tours, and some can barely play an instrument live—usually, they play just enough to write the song but not perform it well. Then there are artists like KT Tunstall who handle the stage just fine on their own.
Playing to a New York City crowd solo on a Monday night is no easy feat, and Webster Hall isn’t always the friendliest venue in town. Still, armed with a few guitars, a looping pedal and a drum machine (her “incredible Taiwanese orchestra”), Tunstall commanded the audience just fine, playing a decent amount of tracks from her recent album Tiger Suit as well as a few tracks from her past records and two new ones from a special acoustic release, the Scarlet Tulip EP, which she finished literally the week before the concert and considered Monday night her “release party.”
Solo shows, of course, sometimes call for a bit of a change of pace in many of the songs, which Tunstall delivered perfectly. Her track “Little Favors,” for example, got a special treatment as she explained that she had written it on piano when she was a teenager and then played the slowed-down version. She also whipped out some amateur beat-boxing as backing loops on a few tracks.
Perhaps the biggest change was her update of her hit “Other Side of the World,” which became extremely minimal with just a simple percussion loop and soft synthesizer to accompany her vocals. Of course the live versions of “Suddenly I See” and “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” were closer to the original mixes, though she did surprise the crowd a bit with a verse from the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” spliced into “Black Horse.”
Newer tracks palyed out a bit interestingly, however, as she explained that she was inspired both by LCD Soundsystem and the club scene in Berlin to introduce techno elements into the mix. The live result produced an interesting juxtaposition of hard-hitting dance beats against usually acoustic guitar melodies. The techno influence was also definitely more apparent live than on Tiger Suit, perhaps due to Webster Hall’s acoustics (they also double as a night club, after all).
Her show wasn’t all dance-inspired tracks, however; the Scarlet Tulip EP is actually inspired greatly by basic acoustic guitars and finger-picking, as she demonstrated on the tracks “Patience” and “Scarlet Tulip.” The tour- and website-only release includes seven new acoustic tracks, and judging from the two live samples, it’s sure to be a chill release to counteract the upbeat style of Tiger Suit and bring Tunstall back to her roots.
Performance aside, Tunstall also kept the audience entertained with short stories and cute, quirky banter and antics—from imitating a trumpet to her use of a kazoo on “Black Horse” as the “Seven Nation Army” guitar part. She also made her love of whiskey apparent and sheared the story of her whiskey guitar, which is made out of barrels of Talisker, her favorite Single Malt Scotch (she is, after all, Scottish).
Tunstall’s ability to keep the audience engaged as well as her versatility in switching between acoustic and dance/pop in the same concert are definitely signs that she’s a great artist. She may not be huge in the U.S., having only a handful of recognizable singles, but anybody that can fill a room in New York City and seem totally comfortable alone onstage has major talent.
This article was originally published on AllMediaNY.com