Photographed by Wunmi Onibudo for the girls are.
Soap & Skin Ensemble @ Scala, London. 11 April 2012
Soap & Skin is Anja Plaschg, tonight performing with the Soap & Skin Ensemble. There are different types of sadness, just as there are different shades of colour in the sky at night, just as there are different palettes of sound that can be wrung from a piano. Plaschg has recently lost her father. ‘Vater’, a track on her new record Narrow, pays tribute to him. It’s sung in German so thegirlsare can’t understand the lyrics but the emotion comes clearly through when she plays ‘Vater’ tonight. Plaschg has to pause for a minute after playing this evidently deeply personal song. This tells the story of the Soap & Skin set tonight – moments of such interspersed with hesitations and pauses. The songs which are so compulsively tight on record feel less cohesive live: but these songs are so sad that the occasional ragged edge adds authenticity to Plaschg’s performance.
What’s more melancholic than a plaintive violin? A string quartet. What has more lingering tones of regret than a string quartet? A string quartet accompanied by a French horn slowly asserting itself across their melodies. Add Plaschg’s piano and Nico-esque vocals with supporting vocals by her sister and you have the Soap & Skin Ensemble. The effect is less broken hearted, and more gothic devastation. Thegirlsare can feel bruises rising on our arms as Plaschg sings, “bury me/ bury me under ice” over and under the cello and double bass on ‘Extinguish Me’.
This may sound like a set of deep yet calm melancholy, but Plaschg includes broken beats a plenty in her songs. She begins by coming on to a prizefighter’s bombastic swirling spotlights and heavy beats for new song ‘Deathmental’. ‘Marche Funebre’ had Plaschg stalking the stage, jerking her body and throwing her voice at us. She’s even included a disco song in her set. The song may have been translated into a piano driven exploration of loss, but ‘Voyage Voyage’ began life as a 1980s disco hit for Desireless.
Tonight Plaschg finishes with a nod to the influences she wears in her voice itself, a cover of Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’. It’s been a strange, mesmeric, cathartic evening, for us as well as for Plaschg it seems. “Sometimes I feel so happy/ Sometimes I feel so sad,” she sings in ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ and thegirlsare are completely convinced of her sincerity.
Soap & Skin included us in her inner emotional life at this gig, have you ever experienced this at a live performance?