Singer-songwriter Emm Gryner has backed David Bowie, toured with the Cardigans, been lauded by U2’s Bono and, gifted with a tensile voice and striking, looks seems well situated for stardom. It hasn’t arrived yet though, which is why her latest mini-tour finds her playing clubs like Ottawa’s Zaphod’s accompanied by Haligonian singer-songwriter Jill Barber.
Barber opened the early show with a dozen songs. Accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, she fingerpicked her way through a slate of her own songs, a request for Tom Waits ‘Picture In A Frame’ and a closing ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ with the audience singing along on the closing verse. A genuine river of love and melancholy runs through Barber’s set; it was a most touching performance.

Gryner then took the stage, lowered the microphone by a foot, and launched into her set with a brief a cappela turn before settling down behind the piano.

That piano: I was originally impressed that the club had plumped for an actual piano. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a mere wooden shell with an electronic keyboard inside, the wooden shell functioning as little more than a place to put one’s drink.

To some extent Gryner’s performance suffered from a similar impression. She’s an expert on stage, but despite the plaudits Bono aimed at her ‘Almighty Love’ (he described it as one of the few songs he wished he wrote himself), her songs tread overly familiar ground. They gave a slight air of world-weary romantic cynicism to her set, despite some good-natured joking and banter from Gryner.

She also threw in an odd cover of the Beatles ‘Revolution’, accompanying herself with a looped bass guitar. Gryner then returned to the piano to cover Def Leppard’s ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ in a fairly straight-faced manner. As a somewhat jocular hair-metal tune it was bearable – by which I mean it made me want to feed the members of Def Leppard to a pack of hungry bears. As a would-be torch song, the full silliness of its lyrics was on display.

After the uncomplicated sincerity of Barber’s set, Gryner’s was left by to get by on Gryner’s formidable talents as a performer. She entertained, but couldn’t erase the faint taint of superficiality.

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