Saturday, July 09, 2011

NEeMA / Little Palm @ Birmingham Academy, Friday 8th July 2011

Look up NEeMA’s name on t’internet and you’ll normally find another one closely associated with it...Leonard Cohen. Yep, it seems that our Len’s taken a bit of shine to NEeMA over the past few years as friend, mentor and co-producer on her latest album (as well as drawing her for the front cover). Coming hot on the heels of support slots for Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Beck and Joe Cocker (and just before supporting Sir Reginald Dwight) tonight was one of only two solo UK dates and a seemingly increasingly rare chance to get up close and personal with the owner of, as Len puts it, “a voice of true feeling...a rare event!” (although I can’t imagine him ever using an exclamation mark can you? The dude’s so laid back he’s horizontal).

First up though, and tonight showing herself to be no slouch when it come to ‘true feeling’, the lovely Little Palm. She’s been a bit quiet of late, after hooking up with local noise pop heroes Tantrums, which is a bit of shame because tonight Little Palm was...well, as the lady next to us put it “the best support act I’ve seen”. Raw and emotionally honest she’s grown to become a particularly powerful vocalist, belting out her songs without losing the subtle nuances that make a great performance. There were more than a few ‘hairs on the back on the neck’ moments with Backbone, Catfish and...preceded by a shout out to her mum...Ragdoll all standout numbers. Tantrums are great and I hope she sticks with them but it would be a crying shame if we lost Little Palm along the way. Somebody who knows what they’re doing needs to sign this girl. Now.

Happily someone who knew what they were doing signed NEeMA a while back and, whilst she’s a relatively new name over here in the UK, since her first album back in 2006 she’s been touring around the world like crazy and with a little help from Mr Cohen, honing her songwriting skills. Like Len NEeMA’s got that quiet confidence that seems to come from that illusive little thing called ‘inner peace’. It’s a tricky bugger to find (I think I lost mine down the back of the sofa) but on stage she’s got a tremendously calming presence which, combined with her dreamy vocal, makes watching her a bit of a spellbinding experience. Certainly the audience tonight were unusually attentive, gently lulled by track after harmonious track. There were some surprises in amongst the self penned songs though. A cover of Dire Straits Romeo and Juliet for instance and more unusually, Dream Academy’s ‘80’s cult classic Life In A Northern Town. Living in a town in northern Canada, this track clearly had a real significance for the young NEeMA and this evening’s cover version neatly slowed down the pace of the original and stripped back the more bombastic chorus, making it somehow even more wistful and, well, NEeMA-ish. Whilst many of the songs had this gently reflective feel she’s got a genuine bone fide singalongapop tune in the shape of ‘Escape’, a bouncy number hiding some surprisingly existentialist lyrics. It’s as addictive as hell and I’ve been humming it ever since I first heard it a few weeks back. Resistance is futile.

With her band leaving her alone on the stage for a moment Elsa’s Lullaby (written for her dog) was pure, undiluted NEeMA, her equivalent of Jacko’s Ben and every bit as moving. This was followed by a couple more covers given the NEeMA treatment, Len’s Avalanche and Springsteen’s Ghost Of Tom Joad, tonight dedicated to the recently deceased sax legend Clarence Clemons. Between numbers NEeMA would chat about some of her travels and experiences and like her mentor, you get the feeling that it’s taken some time to get that inner peace we mentioned earlier. NEeMA explain that the song Eternity was inspired by this questioning. In this case, if we all go up to heaven and sit by the lord how the hell do we all fit? Think of the number of people that have already lived and how many of those go ‘up there’ and how many go ‘down below’. What if we end up kneeling by the feet of the big man for all eternity...won’t that get a little boring? Not being religious this doesn’t overly concern me but for the 5th grade NEeMA it clearly became something of an obsession. Summing up her struggle with this big question she comes up with the best bit of advice of all really, basically we don’t know jack so just enjoy yourself while you’re here (at least that seemed to be the gist of it all). Wise words. Suitably enough the evening was capped off with the hugely enjoyable Masi, a breathily hypnotising prayer song inspired by her time with the Wekweti people (the indigenous people of Canada), which neatly incorporated some of the musical influences from her Lebanese / Egyptian heritage. Lovely stuff. A beautiful evening of music from an equally beautiful soul.

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