Tirzah @ YES, Manchester, 21 Apr
Tirzah and her band are on quietly eviscerating form in Manchester
Coming five years after her name-making debut EP and three years after her last single, Tirzah’s debut Devotion arrived last year as a perfectly formed examination of the near infinite complexities of relationships. It has a sound that sits so perfectly in headphones, a warmth and a closeness that feels almost intrusive, that one can easily imagine the whole thing rather falling away live. Björk may have made Vespertine (a record with a comparable intimacy) work live but Björk never had to face down a room full of bright red Mancs who’d been drinking all day.
When Tirzah takes the stage with her band, comprising of Mica Levi and Coby Sey, they are visibly low energy and early songs have a sense of a band gathering strength. It’s as if all the sonic clippings and slight flashes of sound that compromise her instrumentals are being coaxed from the corners of the room, gently building as more and more layers are adding to this pulsating ball of sounds. It grows throughout the opening songs, building into a climax of white noise that manages to simultaneously sound like collapsing scaffolding while maintaining the enveloping warmth of her recorded work. It works brilliantly, pushing out the space, and giving the songs that follow an intimacy that the room would not normally afford.
It’s in this space that they really excel. Devotion, opening on Sey’s voice alone before building with a drunken silent film soundtrack of a piano loop and clinking hi-hats, is quietly mesmeric. It’s shifting icebergs of bass are almost brutish live but never overpowering the songs essential delicacy, Tirzah marshalling everything around her unforced but never anything short of astonishing voice. Gladly is similarly more forceful live, turning the stop-start rhythm of its recorded version into an ominous stomp, but the warmth of the surrounding electronics and her voice draw the whole crowd into a mass singalong.
Seemingly ambivalent to the crowds presence, but never with a hint of performative posturing, she maintains a quiet commitment to disappearing into the songs, opening her eyes at the end of every one and looking faintly shocked she’s on stage. There’s a palpable sense from the crowd that they’re aware it’ll probably be a good while before they see her again but she has left an indelible imprint in her wake.