Before Megan Washington comes on stage, she has a circus spruiker-style introduction incompatible with the low key, mellow set that was to follow. She sits alone on stage at her keyboard looks out, feeling out and quizzing the seated audience.
Someone calls out, “We wanna dance”, (not realising that there wouldn’t be any of that tonight unless he was talking about his emotions, and Megan responds, “I’ll put up Spotify for you”. After having watched the well-received support by Noami Keyte and Mary Webb during which a less attentive audience member had been talking throughout, she sets the ground rules up front, “This is especially a gig not to talk through, FYI”. Later, mid-set, she takes a moment to consider gigs unlike tonight where she has had to compete with a talkative audience and recites the comments she has overheard:
“I thought she’d be taller.”
“When is she going to play something I know?”
“It’s so depressing”.
The second of these is answered later by two familiar songs she covers, and the third comment… Megan Washington’s songs are already bare and intimate but tonight they are stripped back and exposed, evoking immediate empathy as if you are psychologically sharing a hug. Physically, her hair is slicked back, her face pale with bright red lipstick. Glasses-less she seems naked from the neck up.
She begins her set with Skeleton Key which is followed by How To Tame Lions. A moment is taken to point out the sheet of paper at her feet as “songs I know how to play” (not an actual set list but there are still eager fans front of stage after the set to take photographs of the keepsake – this is how incorrect set listings get posted online) and acknowledges that she has had to exclude songs with drums in them.
The creaking tent of the appropriately named Ice Cube venue prompts her to consider her safety and that of the audience with the comment, “I’ve always said I wanna die on stage” and she plays an excerpt from former collaborator Ben Lee’s We’re All In This Together. The first of several new songs from the upcoming album reportedly titled “Sugardoom” is Achilles Heart and this remains in a melancholic mood much the same as the rest of the set. Towards the end of the song in response to the groaning frame of the tent around us she improvises, “We’re all gonna die”. After the song she jokes that she is taking a pause for someone responsible to point out the exits in case of an emergency. Catherine Wheel is another new song and during an enlightening preamble she describes a catherine wheel as a firework but also a torture device using this as a metaphor for a relationship. “Kiss me like a catherine wheel // You tropical electric storm // … Kiss me like we’re gonna die”, a very pertinent set of lyrics given the weather conditions affecting the tenting of the Ice Cube venue.
The Ballad of Bokito and Petronella is preceeded by the retelling of a story relayed to her by Kate Miller-Heideke about a celebrity gorilla in Rotterdam Zoo and how he came to be hugging a human female fan due to the perceived confusion in that he thought they were mates. The preamble ending with Megan’s comment, “This reminds me of every relationship I have ever had”.
The first of three cover versions through the set is Roy Orbison’s You Got It slowed right down and essentially elongated. Later, the Boys Next Door song Shivers is similarly transformed with her own vocal inflections and enunciations, and a jazz-vocal “down my spine” completing the song. Another new song is Mirror in the Mirror which she says she wrote on morphine about being on morphine (“It is not a mirror that goes on forever // It is a mirror in the mirror”). She returns to her early material with the short song about childhood with her sister Five & Ten and without needing to, she apologises, “I’m sorry all my songs are sad. I can’t help it”.
She shares her own near “me too” experience about a guy who invited her home with the promise of a Wii but was actually wanting to “play naked Wii sports” which she managed to avoid by turning down the lights and singing to him until he feel asleep, and then she wrote a song about it: The Belly of a Whale.
I Believe You Liar is another song about failed relationships (“I sing every song I’ve ever sung // from what we were to what we’ve become”) during which she places the chord pattern cliff notes atop her keyboard for the first half of the song before discarding it later. There’s another cover with Human Race (a song written by Paul Hankinson performed by Fiora) before she ends with what she introduces as a lullaby, One For Sorrow, thanking the audience although not returning to encore. After this evenings therapy session with Megan Washington I think we all felt a little bit better and less alone in the world.
Live review by Jason Leigh