The artist Ron Arad’s work has been all over London during the summer. His piece “Spyre” dominates the courtyard at the Royal Academy during its Summer Exhibition and The Roundhouse is home to his 360 degree installation Curtain Call as part of its 50th Anniversary celebrations.
Whilst we waited for the doors to open into the auditorium, they were sticking “This performance contains nudity” notices on them. This in itself was intriguing as after all this was a rock concert! When the doors did open after a short delay, you entered the performance space by walking through Arad’s installation as if walking through those PVC strips that you sometimes find hanging on bathroom door frames but on a giant scale. There are 5600 white silicon rods suspended from an 18 metre diameter ring hung from the ceiling about 10 metres up. On the white rods are projected the artist’s work but that’s during the day – tonight it’s just a static abstract design.
There are three stages of various sizes and as the audience enter, there’s confusion about where to stand and what we’re supposed to be looking at. Then Laura Groves takes to the middle sized stage along with Ben Reed and she proceeds to do her set of 8 songs playing guitar and keyboards whilst Reed backs her on bass. Her songs are a bit samey and she seems to have been heavily influenced by Laura Nyro but it’s a pleasant prelude to the main event.
Then after an interval of 20 minutes or so, three of Eska’s band take to the largest stage followed by Eska herself stomping in on 6 inch high platform shoes and wailing like a banshee – albeit one with an amazing voice. She is a force of nature as she proceeds to rock The Roundhouse and the audience is mesmerised by her from the first note. Then from across the room guitarist Dave Okumu plays a Hendrix-like guitar solo and we’re off and running at the start of what is to be an incredible set.
After a couple of songs Eska, disappears but soon turns up on the stage opposite where Okumu had just been where she plays keyboards and guitar – and sings of course. By now the band on the main stage have been joined by Phillip Achille on harmonica who adds another layer to the sound of the band.
Then during another song, on the small stage that’s situated between the two bigger stages, Julian Ferraretto appears and adds yet another layer of sound with his mournful violin solo. By now the Roundhouse is rocking its foundations when once again Eska disappears from view. Then we hear the sound of a 12 piece string section who can be seen as shadows on the silicon rods. Some of the audience then pass through the installation to the other side where the string section are situated and they’ve been joined by Eska on violin and vocals – is there anything this wonderful talent can’t do or play?
The evening progresses with Eska popping up in various places playing a variety of instruments and showcasing her whole vocal range with is enormous. One of the highlights of the set is a brilliant harmonica solo by Achille which had the audience screaming and calling for more.
Finally, after around 90 minutes or so, this incredible performance comes to an end with “This Is How A Garden Grows” the opening track on her Mercury Prize nominated eponymous 2015 album and the stunned audience makes its way through Arad’s installation for the last time and into the night.
As for the nudity, this was in the form of very tasteful close-ups of bodies (one of which was Eska’s) projected onto Arad’s rods. There were also beautifully photographed feet and hands, shadows of bodies, the earth from above and various other abstract designs which were synchronised to the music adding yet another layer to the immersive experience.
It’s 50 years since bands like Pink Floyd played at the Roundhouse and pioneered light shows and projections. Arad’s Curtain Call combined with Eska and her band, is a fitting way to celebrate five decades of music at this unique venue.
Review by Alan Fitter
Critically-acclaimed ESKA performs at the Roundhouse as part of a series of immersive gigs in and around Ron Arad’s 360° installation, Curtain Call.
ESKA’s performance will serve as a finale to the extraordinary journey she has been on since releasing her Mercury Music Prize nominated debut album just over a year ago. With her 5-piece band and the Goldsmiths Big Strings positioned throughout the Main Space, the audience will be immersed in unique visual and sound worlds for this breathtaking realisation of ESKA’s work.
Thursday 18th August 2016
Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road,
London, NW1 8EH