As someone who has fallen away from the live music scene and been ensnared by the isolation of a Spotify-playlist driven prison I rarely go to gigs these days; only attending if it’s a performer I absolutely love. Diane Birch is one of those artists. She bewitched me back in 2010 in the early hours of a Saturday morning when I stumbled across her debut album online. After streaming it for hours on end on repeat I had purchased it by 8am and have been a fan ever since. Remember when you used to buy music that you loved? After learning she was playing in Scotland I bought tickets immediately and on a bright sunny Sunday afternoon took the train over to Glasgow to a venue I’d never been to: The CCA on Sauchiehall Street. Inside the room was set up with rows of seats and, on a raised stage, sat a solitary grand piano guarded by a duo of speakers.
Before Diane Birch was Wilsen. She took to stage without the rest of her band to perform an acoustic set for us. The set begins with Centipede which introduces us to the raw, fragile songs that Wilsen creates. There are echoes of Fleet Foxes in the careful and measured performance and throughout I’m struck by how these delicate songs hush the audience and, like woven strands of fabric in a tapestry, paint honest and emotional stories for us. The stand out moment for me was her performance of Dusk which, to lightly touch into the hyperbolic, was earth shattering. The combination of guitar and whistling is a hypnotic spiral of melody that left me in genuine awe. Wilsen stops in between songs to retune her guitar and speaks candidly about her return to the UK apologising that she’s now stopped using the letter U in many of her spellings now she lives in America and her inability to understand fahrenheit. The songs are so delightful and the audience so in thrall that each tuning tweak of her guitar seemingly amplifies to fill the whole room. I wondered if I had a pin and dropped it would everyone hear?
Wilsen’s last song is Garden whose chorus repeats the phrase “say that we’ll hold onto this time.” If only we could, I think. But soon it is over and warm, enthusiastic applause fills the hanging last chord and we wait for the main act.
The lighting was simple with rows of blue lights painting the stage but when Diane arrives a single red spotlight comes on from above, shading the tops of the piano keys red but leaving the underside blue. I wondered if I put on a pair of retro 3D glasses what would happen.
This was a stripped down performance to echo the beautiful stripped down sound of her debut album and recent release NOUS but also helped let the songs from her second album Speak A Little Louder breathe having been a tad buried in overproduction. My breath holds in my chest as her fingers dance over the keys, I think about how I can barely remember what I need to buy from the shop without writing it down yet how she can remember the hundreds of combinations that unlock her songs.
Both Stand Under My Love and Superstars set the tone for the evening. An emotional punch that sometimes can only be delivered with a single voice and instrument performance. We were lucky to witness her share two new songs – Don’t Remind Me and (I’m guessing the title as it was not revealed) The Year We Disappear. Both being so surprisingly strong that I felt the selfish music fan within me want to own them immediately so I could listen over and over again. Instead they linger inside my head which in many ways makes the experience that more intimate and memorable.
Following a masterful run of improvisation at the end of a new song we slip into a wonderful version of Walk On Water and Diane confesses that she needs to remember to stop in between song, finding it easy to improvise flourishing arpeggios as a way to weave each song together. To my delight we get a trio of songs from her debut album, Fire Escape, Nothing But A Miracle and, the song that first cracked my heart open, Rewind. After each song Diane thanks us for the applause, complimenting how kind we are and putting us at ease with her calm demeanor. I look around and everyone is captivated and hanging on every note.
Overall, I was impressed and delighted by how many non-album tracks, covers and new songs she played. Diane often looked at her setlist and then seemingly changed her mind, often asking the audience if they’d prefer something new or old. Aside from the two new songs we also heard the rare Juno and covers of The Cure’s Primary and ended on a rousing rendition of Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World.