Liz Green @ Bush Hall, London 03.04.12

Most of her songs may be about death, but this is life-enhancing stuff.

Apr 3rd, 2012 at Bush Hall, London / By Ben Wood
Liz Green A healthy-sized crowd has braved monsoon conditions to check out one-of-a-kind Mancunian blues and folk singer Liz Green. Her recent, long-awaited, debut album O, Devotion! showcases a set of spare, death-obsessed songs that bring to mind 1930s speakeasies and cabaret halls.

On record, Liz’s distinctive vocals and fingerpicking style are enhanced by the subtlest of touches from brass, brushed drums and double bass, the New Orleans marching band sound providing a warm soundbed for Liz to tell her tales. And while the album can seem a tad sombre and one-paced, Green really shines live. She has a witty, self-deprecating stage presence, and she and her band of gentlemen rogues (one clad in a pashmina, fashion fans) are clearly mates having a blast together.

She may not be treating us to her legendary puppet show, but Green is still keen to keep us on our toes. She sings her opener, a cover of bluesman Son House’s ‘A Good Friend is Hard to Find’, solo and off the stage – drawing our attention to her handmade top. It’s festooned with eyes, and we’re informed that “fourteen teddy bears died to make this”.

Green then moves forward several decades with an affecting version of the Pulp ballad ‘Help the Aged’ - telling us she liked to open with covers, so at least we’ll get some good music before she starts doing her own songs. However, underneath the “what, little old me?” act is a confident and self-possessed performer.

Green seats herself at the piano as her band troops on, her simple figures the perfect accompaniment for a wistful and rather more modern-sounding original. Her lyrics cover an intriguing range of subjects – including war victims (‘Displacement Song’), the Mexican man who has been to every funeral in his town for decades (‘Luis’) and being buried alive (‘Ostrich Song’).

She’s certainly not lacking in daring. It takes some balls to call an original song ‘Hey Joe’. And she performs haunting folk tune ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’ while dressed in a giant bird’s-head mask, as her alter-ego, the half-bird, half-man Starling Joe.

Life isn’t a picnic in this singer’s world: songs get introduced as “another one about death” and “a song about alcoholics”. But she’s still able to laugh, and as Green put it during rapturously received encore ‘French Singer’, “I’ve still got the fight”.

She’s not wrong. While her album is pretty strong medicine, Liz Green is a natural performer. Her warmth, charm and charisma send us off into the damp night, glowing.