Athena live @ Bush Hall, London
This review is long overdue… A few months ago we were treated to an audience with Anglo-Greek songstress Athena, in the subtly decadent surroundings of Bush Hall, Sheppard’s Bush. London.
It’s a fitting venue for Athena’s musical style as Bush Hall is unique in its ability to stand as a relatively large venue yet still retain a feeling of sparkling intimacy. Athena herself looks striking in glamorous white robes suited to the occasion (or a schmaltzy cocktail party), either way, there’s no denying that in line with those mythical Greek goddesses before her, Athena is quite a picture.
Here’s a run-down of the show’s highlights.
Athena opens with recent single ‘Finding England’. Clearly in an entertaining and engaging mood, Athena blasts this one out with big bold vocals to within a whisker of her full singing ability. Funny that the song on CD is quite a cutesy sounding mellow affair – none of that here.
‘Peeling Apples‘, the title track of her album is another earthy affair but sang with soft grace which gives you a strong yank in to her heartfelt lyrical sphere. A bit like being hit over the head with a hardback nursery rhyme book, but it’s a welcome juxtaposition.
‘Wrestlers Mask‘ – a definite highlight in Athena’s repertoire – is a beautiful song about a Japanese wrestler who likes to keep his mask on. Nice and simple in story line “you don’t have to keep your mask on” etc but the melody, arrangement and vocals on the track are by far the most memorable and chin stroking of the night. Think Nerina Pallot meets a sad Dawson’s Creek scene, maybe where Pacey doesn’t quite get to pork that Milfy teacher so scuffs his way back home via moon-lit park benches – or something like that. As horrendous as that might sound, it somehow works.
By now you maybe guessing that Athena is something of love or hate kind of artist, and you’re most probably right. Those resident in the ‘hate’ camp would probably have little time for the track ‘Tears Are Only Water’ – a woosy ballad draped in uplifting tragedy crooned over a grand piano. Then there’s the somewhat self-explanatory ‘Love Will Conquer Everything’ – they’d hate that too, and to be fair, that little number is just a little far over the mushy line for me.
However, amongst the Kleenex stripping, duvet-on-the-sofa-with-onesie-covered-in-maltesers-crumbs-ness of it all does lie some genuinely bright sparks of songwriting and natural performance talent. Most probably nurtured during her time in New York where she was taken under the wing of a music teacher from the elite Juilliard School of Performing Arts.
As the night moves on we get a cracking Kiki and Elton-esque duet in the form of ‘Set in Stone’ a chirpy ditty that relieves us from the more somber feelings of its predecessors, but then ‘Little Jane’ is just a little too chirpy for my liking. The overly bouncy-pop melodies make it sound something like a Fisher Price advert, although that’s mildly vindicated by the song’s message which reaches out to ‘Little Jane’ and tells her not to worry about being one of those perfect poster girls. A worthy enough message but by now I’m yearning for more mourning.
Luckily enough we’re back in to Athena’s staple diet of the yearning ballad in form of ‘I’ll Never Know‘ – which is infinitely more stomachable than “Love Will Conquer Everything” from earlier, despite its simple romanticism it certainly hits the emotional spot and at this point I realise I’m getting slightly caught up in it all! Pull yourself together man. Athena does have a rare magnetism and at the risk of using one of the tiredest clichés in the book – she draws you in. Yep, I just said that.
These are followed by ‘Butterflies’ apparently an oldie which carries a convincing silky seductive manner reminiscent of the Rat Pack – albeit slightly more demure and minus the testosterone. And I was doing so well not to give in to a Kate Bush comparison, but here it is (I hate myself). ‘Looking At Me Looking At You‘ is an upbeat peaking and swooping demi-yodel which starts off with a folky erstwhile intro in the vein of Joni Mitchell before exploding in to the theatrical piano plinky-plonky style of Katie B herself although. It is however, very entertaining and in Athena’s own soft style it’s another highlight of the show.
This is followed by another mushy, otherwise forgettable number and then a song for Greece – called ‘Song For Greece‘ which I didn’t quite understand.
All in all, and after a rather lengthy set – some 90 mins including chit chat and between-song commentary, Athena has put on a thoroughly gratifying and professional show and there is no doubt to her obvious talents for astute songwriting and painfully catchy melodies. If you can sift through the moments of slightly affecting chaff you’ll be handsomely rewarded with golden wheaty goodness.
The album ‘Peeling Apples’ is out now.