KT Tunstall was the first musician aside from Elgar (Salut d’amour made me spontaneously combust into tears at age four, an unusual attribute to say the least) who captured my attention at an early age. At age ten, I’d learnt her entire 2005 Eye To The Telescope album from my dad’s ipod, performing to anyone who would listen. And ultimately her music planted a seed in me that has been slowly growing ever since. That seed branched into my finding a way to music school, aged twelve, and later to Berklee, to study songwriting and production.
Anyhow, as my first show review as Editor-in-Chief of Berklee Groove, she happened to be making up a show missed earlier that year at The Sinclair, in May 2019. It seemed the stars had aligned, marking the way forward as clear. So I thought this would be a fitting throwback to one of my absolute favourite, and in my opinion underrated musicians out there.
Powerful. Rockstar. Vibrant. Charismatic. Honest. Witty. Vulnerable. Down to earth. Soulful. These are a few words to describe the fantastic evening back in May. It was one of a few shows making up those cancelled back in late 2018 when she experienced a sudden hearing and balance loss putting her out of action for a couple of months. She still can’t hear out of one ear. But this show proved what a strong and inspirational musician she is - despite her setbacks. Let me explain why.
I’ve been a KT fan since I can remember. Her melodies, rough soulful voice and driving rhythmic pocket were simply perfect to me. Imagine receiving the most indulgent ice-cream complete with strawberry laces, melted chocolate, cheese strings (a questionable combination) plus whatever else was forbidden from you as a kid - in one sitting. That was the equivalent of her music to me. It just made sense. However I went the conventional route of classical music school and intense musical training. I had lost touch with her music for almost five years. That was, until a notification popped up on my phone two months before this show. My curiosity was re-ignited. And as I delved back into her music, I discovered her latest two albums, welcoming this deep feeling of sonically coming home. I’d forgotten what I’d treasured as a kid, and it was thrilling to have been pulled back down to my roots.
I continued to delve further into her discography, I discovered that her latest albums, KIN and WAX, embodied a re-birth of her musical voice, in contrast with the vulnerability and intimacy of her 2013 album Invisible Empire. With distorted guitar power-lines of “Little Red Thread” contrasting with the consoling melodies of the chorus; or the hard rock vocals of “Hard Girls” served over ear-candy harmonies and propulsive drums, she’d come back to life as a daring musical voice that I didn’t know I’d missed. Thus, in order to get a first hand catch-up of her journey since initial album Eye To The Telescope, I had to get to the show.
To me she’s an amazing artist. Because she’s so honest. There are few artists who make music from the place of ‘this is what I believe… so I’m going to write it, stand by it and love it come hell or high water’. I think that authenticity resonated with me at the age of ten, and still does with her music twelve years later.
Accompanied by her drummer, Cat Myers, KT performed on various guitars as well as using a looper and drum pad with sub, bass and kit samples. She quotes herself as the predecessor to Ed Sheeran, being the first popular songwriter to utilise a looper pedal on stage. With her mastery of this tech, KT and Cat had enough energy to fill an arena. Following opener, USC graduate Maddie Ross, she began the set with an old song - “Other Side of the World”, filling the packed room with electrifying energy.
Bounding between the cheering audience, Cat and loop pedal stations, she maintained this ecstatic energy throughout the whole show. She’s just so cool, with the atheistic of a rocker pared with wit that triggers a much needed belly laugh.
Audience interaction included cueing us to sing along to “Oh Whey Oh” in her mashup of The Bangles song “Walk Like an Egyptian”. Her tribute song to Bowie included an annexing of the venue’s glitter ball in an impromptu addition of mood lighting. She shared her hilarious side of her TV debut - when organisers of Later… with Jools Holland asked her, an un-debuted singer-songwriter, to replace Naz the Rapper. Why she settled on donning chopped-off knitted sweater sleeves as leg warmers, creating an undecidedly unique hairy-leg look on live TV, is a mystery unsolved. And the ‘I’ve made it mom!’ moment came when a friend called her to inform that Tokyo’s fish market was being blessed with her music. All these witty little gems peppered the night, whilst she simultaneously addressed deeper issues with a sense of light-hearted openness regarding the vulnerability, frustration and joy that accompanies being human.
The evening was topped off with her tribute to Game of Thrones, being broadcast at the time of this very performance. She whipped out a kazoo, announced her drummer had ‘no clue what she was meant to be playing’, and blasted the iconic melody into a mic, with the cheer of a drunken night out. Yet having lived through a period of depression, divorce and losing half her hearing, this witty, joyful and charismatic singer-songwriter proved to the room that life is what you make it. She’s back with an honest musical voice and a strong song-craft. More importantly, she’s lived life and has much wisdom to share. I’ve already heard her voice on the radio throughout Boston, and hope that she will continue to rise in popularity, sharing with the world her unique energy.