Concerts are naturally a very thrilling and special thing, but every so often one comes along that feels like the most important thing in the world. Seeing the acclaimed yet reclusive singer/songwriter Keaton Henson at the London Palladium felt like the most significant concert I have ever been to. Despite his immense talents ranging from folk, electronic and classical music, and even art and poetry, Keaton rarely performs live due to his crippling anxiety. Thankfully for me and the rest of his adoring fans he decided to face his own personal hell, a fully sold out London Palladium, to produce a truly unforgettable night.
Nerves were also an issue for opening act Daudi Matsiko, although by the end of his all too brief set he seemed a lot more relaxed. His friendly and easy-going demeanour really juxtaposed his dark and atmospheric music. Often his songs grew from simple origins to a dramatic climax, and like a rising tide the mood he created slowly washed over the packed out palladium crowd. Tracks such as ‘Sandwiches’ and ‘You Can Do Better Than Me, But I Hope You Don’t’ occasionally had some curious lyrics, although I can’t for the life of me decide whether they were very out-of-place or added a lot of charm and character. I think most of the audience went for the latter and I’m sure the very deserving Daudi won over a lot of new fans.
The night had more of a classical approach than I had expected, with the setlist containing a lot of material from Keaton’s Romantic Works album with cellist extraordinaire Ren Ford and a string quartet bringing the songs to life. These sections saw Keaton sat at the piano with his back to the crowd, retreating to a world that was just him and the music. In the precious moments when he did speak to the crowd you caught endearing glimpses of the man behind the music. His humour was charming as he gently poked fun at his dear friend and colleague Ren (and his shitty jumper) as a means of keeping grounded. In a way much about Keaton remains shrouded in mystery, but at the same time the raw and passionate songs such as ‘The Pugilist’ and ‘You’ felt like an irreverent invasion into his very soul. It’s as though he puts the very essence of who he is into his music in a way that so few artists have ever done.
For the most part the crowd were completely captivated, hardly daring to breathe and disrupt the atmosphere of the evening. The silence was shattered on two notable occasions, the first of which came when Keaton told those applauding “the sooner you stop, the sooner I go home” which of course was met with a rapturous applause of protest. The second was the standing ovation that he got at the end of the night, after his encore of the gorgeous ’10am Gare Du Nord’ and a tribute performance of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ which was the closest I’ve ever heard anyone come to matching the magic of Jeff Buckley’s version. As he told us that the night’s performance will probably be his last public appearance for a long while it really hit home what a special evening it was and how grateful I was to be a part of it.