Cherilyn MacNeil kicked off the concert with an apology. If you were her mother, you’d get her to say it again. ‘We haven’t played this set before, ever’, she admitted. ‘It could go any way’. But her expression was never far from a cheeky smile, and the three women on stage with her were in on the joke.
The joke was that this concert absolutely killed it, and it was never going to go any other way. And Dear Reader knew that all along, even though they’d never performed together before, even though the new album Day Fever had only been released the very day before. What else would you expect from a lineup like this?
All-singing, all-playing, all women
The band Dear Reader has graced us in several manifestations, always led by Cherliyn MacNeil since 2008. This particular group, four Berlin-based women all hooked on musical innovation, is pretty special.
From left to right we had Stella Veloce on the electric cello, the engine room instrument of the band and far more than just a curiosity; Evelyn Saylor, who apparently wasn’t just the pitch-perfect harmonist but also the brains behind the kaleidoscopic costume design; finally Olga Nosova, a wonderful percussionist who breaks the typical kit-player mould in real style.
Send for the choir
Berlin viewers were treated with a unique addition to the lineup: a hand-picked women’s choir that enhanced the synth-flushed folk tracks with terrific vocal power. MacNeil’s choral twists are apparently inspired by Shape Note singing which is a method straight out of historical North America, ‘four-part, a capella, loud and skin-bristling’.
That’s exactly what this choir delivered. In the quartet pieces, I often found myself itching for something more, a kick that rarely came, to do justice the venom behind songs like So Petty So Pathetic. (Maybe I’m expecting a cheap fix big bassline, and I should go back to Alt-J instead.) But with the choir behind, the performance took on a new level of energy, which was palpable in amongst an audience hearty in applause but a little reserved.
Cherilyn and her women gave it their all, and what a show it was. The mix of talents and backgrounds on stage was a sublime concoction, and if that collaboration is a fleeting one I feel lucky to have witnessed it.
German readers, see where they’re coming to next and buy your tickets here.
Article by Jem Bosatta. Photos by Matthew Colodny.