While Meg Washington has become known for her pop stylings, her songs are re-arranged for piano and vocals for this performance at UKARIA Cultural Centre. The intimacy of the concert finds new depths for even her most familiar music.
In some ways, we are seeing the meeting of Washington’s jazz background with her pop voice through the stripping back of arrangements and centring of her vocals. The performance also highlights a shift in style that seems to have accompanied the singer’s adjustment of her stage name.
Washington is so expressive in her movements it is as if she embodies each song. From the opening number, “Switches”, she is entirely present.
Her voice enjoys all the spoils of an artist who has been releasing music for more than 10 years with its clarity, warmth and strength. She manages to maintain a lightness in her sound even in the great, soaring moments.
On this night, Paul Hankinson provides both harmonic and rhythmic support on the piano. He provides a perfect canvas for Washington to colour over.
The songs are well-placed, providing great variety as they shift from bouncy, percussive arrangements, to more open and thoughtful ballads.
“Batflowers” offers a lovely moment with its light and joyful feel; the audience is captured by Washington’s voice.
The strength in this concert is in the way Washington and Hankinson navigate between the brighter pop songs and the deep, emotional moments.
There are some misty eyes in the second half of the first set thanks to the power behind Washington’s writing: she is equal parts singer and storyteller. “Achilles Heart” is sung with such conviction the lyrics seem to strike through one’s chest, demanding attention. Hankinson is gentle in all the right places.
This is followed by what Washington describes as her “will in song form” with “Underground” – a poignant reminder of how full a life is. It is lifted by Hankinson’s hints at gospel harmony.
Reflecting on her experience making her yet-to-be-released first feature film based on Paul Kelly’s 1996 Song of the Year “How to Make Gravy”, Washington begins a cover of Kelly’s “If I Could Start Today Again”. With Hankinson’s deep and brooding swells, the final resolution feels like a warm hug.
A tribute to Washington’s son, “Lobster” is a sweet telling of their relationship and charms the audience with a few giggles and smiles.
Washington manages to create big moments with a sound that is warming and whole. It seems that even UKARIA’s space loves her voice with the way it carries it. “Lazarus Drug” is the perfect song to showcase this; she is really giving a part of herself here.
The second set opens with a peek inside Hankinson’s musical voice with two of his compositions. “Laundry” describes finding one’s feet in a new place through the significance of life’s small details, and he has a tenderness as he plays it. “Human Race” has a similarly contemplative feel.
Covers of Delta Goodrem’s “Solid Gold” and Paris Hilton’s “Stars are Blind” delight the audience as the performers share affectionate glances. The long-standing friendship and musical relationship between Hankinson and Washington is on show throughout the night.
The concert ends with powerful renditions of the blues-based “Kiss Me Like We’re Gonna Die” and the lamenting “Catherine Wheel”. There is an excellent sense of suspension in the piano as it builds to the sound of rolling thunder in the latter. Both performers give a masterclass in dynamics.
Washington and Hankinson leave the audience with a cover of John Lennon’s venerable classic “Imagine”. They build shapes in songs so beautifully.
The combination of these two artists is captivating. They serve each song with such care it is hard not to be pulled inside every story. It seems that this new iteration of Washington balances maturity with child-like heart, with more to come next year when she will release of her fifth studio album.
Meg Washington and Paul Hankinson performed at UKARIA Cultural Centre on December 2.
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