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You'll struggle to find a venue more aspirational than the Royal Festival Hall. It just looks fantastic, a mixture of Star Wars senate chamber and a buttoned up auditorium. Accordingly, the crowd within it are decked out in full regalia, and it seems like it's date night. The couple in front of me have two glasses of sherry, which they nurse over an hour. The couple behind me, put the world to rights in the intermission, and talk about whether they believe a spiritual God can exist. It's just like being wedged between Radio 4 and a lifestyle section of the Guardian.
The hall fills gradually through the support sets, and finally begins to creak at the seams just before the lights fall. A few audience members would have chanced upon the review of the previous night's performance in the Evening Standard on the way to the venue, with it's suggestion that Fraser's band amounted to a mish mash of musicians who hadn't gelled properly. That doesn't seem to be the case the case tonight. Every detail of their performance is polished and thought out, from the separation booth surrounding the drum kit to the well rehearsed setlist, which unsurprisingly leans heavily on Cocteau Twins material. Of course, players like Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde can't simply be replaced, and those who hoped for a reformation in the encore are to be disappointed. But there are flourishes, with little snatches of Fripp-like guitar popping up here and there, some expertly timed drum fills. This is very obviously not a band who were assembled in a haphazard fashion.
Fraser herself is visibly stage shy, and during the first song her voice seems thin and weak. For a fraction of a second it cracks, but she recovers well, and gradually grows stronger. By the time 'Bluebell Knoll' comes around, the nerves have gone, and her vocals dominate the mix. All around fans yelp with delight. Some yell out the traditional 'We love you', some go further and offer their hands in marriage. A few more yell out longer, unintelligible sentences, hoping to start some private conversation in the middle of a crowded show. That suggests a level of devotion which sidesteps the traditional performer/audience conventions, and seems to be fuelled by a monomaniacal fervour to interact away from records that have been played and replayed thousands of times. And it's pretty annoying, frankly.
Despite the mouth-frothers, it's an enjoyable show, and a real privilege to hear a voice that has such perfect tonal balance and range. And even though it is a predictable and hoary old cliche, my eyes did begin to mist during 'Song to the Siren'. But not as much as they did when Elizabeth Fraser walked offstage with flowers in her arms, a roaring ovation in her ears, and a smile on her face. Let's hope such adulation hurries her return.