words: Maddie Vlismas // photos: Rick Clifford @rcstills
“..I feel like I’m peeking through somebody’s curtains, seeing something so private and intimate that’s not mine to see.”
Despite her success both internationally and domestically (we can claim her as Australian right?) (no we can’t- she’s definitely a Kiwi), I still saw Kimbra as my own, little-known secret that I could introduce to friends if I deemed them worthy enough.
When I arrived at the Gaso on Thursday night for “an intimate, reimagined evening with Kimbra,” I thought I might be sharing experience with a few fans of the Gotye classic ‘Somebody That I Used to Know”’ that she featured on. Instead I witnessed an entire room of people swept away with emotion, their faces a physical embodiment of the heart-eyes emoji as they echo Kimbra’s lyrics back to her…
She enters the stage promptly at 7:30, sheathed in a floor-length, shimmery black dress wearing a dark purple lipstick. She is the embodiment of ‘ethereal, witchy chic’ if there even is such a thing. She’s joined onstage only by a pianist and a double bassist, telling of the specialness we’re about to witness. For this new tour she’s stripping her album Primal Heart all the way back and it is a blessing to the ears that I never knew I needed. I can sum up her performance and the entire evening in one word: magic.
With all the layers of the well-produced record stripped back, her talent as a songwriter is more noticeable than ever and the jazz-inspired soul of each song is revealed. The crowd ‘whoop’, snap their fingers and call out to her as she performs her sultry vocal gymnastics. It feels like a bluesy, poetry slam where the audience is there to encourage her instead of fawn at her feet (although they do that too). Her voice is truly out of this world, belting out “I'm runnin' on a heartbeat, I can feel it in my blood flow,” from the bottom of her toes with little to no effort. The addition of the double bass makes this song move like I never would have imagined.
Just by the way she moves her hands and fingers as she sings, I can imagine someone on the outside looking in would know exactly how she sounds just by looking at her. Wide sweeping, yet purposeful movements, almost as if she’s unconsciously conducting her band mates, punctuate her favourite moments of the song. Even in an intimate setting like this, she is a storyteller, an artist and a performer at heart.
“I normally surround myself with plenty of gadgets, so this is really quite scary for me” she laughs to the audience humbly, as if we’re old friends. Her speaking voice is a combination of old-school Hollywood glamour with a few Kiwi lilts mixed in and is graceful and poetic. Her eyes flick up above her at the mezzanine where I’m standing and makes eye contact with me. I feel like she’s singing to me alone, and I am completely floored by this joyous, otherworldly woman.
Taking it all the way back to Vows from 2012, she launches into ‘Old Flame’ and it is so deliciously tender and moving. A disco ball high above the ceiling casts flecks of light across the room and I can see the audience’s lips moving in time with Kimbra’s. She gets them to sing the intricate melody of “na na na na na na na’s” along with her and it feels like some kind of heavenly church choir. From my place above the stage I can see how this song is resonating with all sorts of people in the crowd, transporting them to a memory when they first heard the song. I feel like I’m peeking through somebody’s curtains, seeing something so private and intimate that’s not mine to see.
“This is nonstop baby, you got me going crazy, you’re heavier than I knew,”… I can’t tell you how anyone else in the room reacted when she sung the opening lines of ‘Cameo Lover’, all I can remember of this song is how gloriously happy it made me. The piano arrangement during the chorus sounds like we’re in a cruise ship lobby and it is infectiously joyous. The bubblegum-pop song stands out amongst the mostly bluesy set-list and the gratitude from the audience for including it is tangible.
After a prompt encore, the band and Kimbra return to the stage for one final song: ‘Version of Me’. It’s heartfelt and soul-wrenchingly beautiful as she chants over and and over: “there’s a better version of me, stay for the person I’ll be”. There’s magic in the air as we all slowly spill out of the venue, all grateful for the secret we’ve been let in on.