Foreign Correspondunce- Concert Review: Ute Lemper
You Ute Know
Spitting, snarling, cackling, roaring. These are not adjectives one would generally use for an evening’s entertainment at Dublin’s National Concert Hall. However, when it is Ute Lemper headlining, this description is more than apt. She is a riveting entertainer, a singer whose voice snaps like a whip and a performer who is in complete control of every nuanced move her body makes. Standing on the stage she mesmerises like a snake and then pounces like a lion. She looks like the love child of Marlene Dietrich and Carole Lombard. In short, she is captivating.
So, you’re probably wondering, who the hell is this broad? Good question, because before Tuesday night, I had no idea either. Thankfully, a ticket found its way into my hands and the force that is Ute became known to me. Born in Germany and now residing in New York, Lemper began as all the greats do, in the world of punk, baby. From there she went on to pretty much conquer the world. Appearing on countless cast recordings, staring in the West End revival of Chicago, tackling the meaty world of Brecht and Weill and channelling the entire 1930s cabaret scene of Berlin AND Paris it is no understatement to say, she is fearless. (Yes, I am nursing a bit of a girl-crush. Pancake, I urge you to investigate.)
The show is primarily a focus on the works of Piaf, Dietrich, Brecht and Weill. She is steeped in the culture and mood of the Weimar Republic. In one breath dark and heartbreaking and in the next comic and manic, her interpretations are a revolutionary change of pace from the generic chanteuse dynamo belting out a tired collection of American Songbook standards. Sung mostly in French and German, Lemper puts a song across like nobody’s business. I had no idea what she was singing about for most of the evening, but her mood was perfectly expressed, be it tragic, bawdy, melancholy or mournful.
It is not just her voice that sets Lemper apart; it is the sheer physicality of her presence. Wearing a tight-fitting evening gown for the first half of the show, she undulates and lunges within a confined 5×5 square of stage, the only part not filled by the orchestra. She is given to climactic one-woman kick lines and jazz hands that give the air around her a good smack on the head. But most intriguing of all is that mouth. A thin, severe line of red, she sings out of the side of her mouth, gnashing her teeth as if she’s chomping a musical cigar, and then throws back her head with a sneer and lets out an exquisite howl that will make your ears bleed. It strikes to the very core, leaving the listener annihilated. It will have you crawling back for more.
In spite of my new found love for Ute, the show was not flawless. Touring and singing with various city symphonies, Lemper must have a rigorous rehearsal schedule with each symphony to get things just so. And there were problems. Even if my ear failed to detect anything amiss, I never needed to look further than the second violin. His face was a newspaper headline screaming every flat note and late cue that hit the stage. (My dearly departed choral instructor of oh-so-many years ago acquainted me with the idea that when on stage, the eyes are like searchlights, focus on the conductor and no where else, lest you are the one eejit ruining the overall effect. Second chair needs to think long and hard on that.) At one point, during the opening bars of Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ (no not on the Weimer Republic’s jukebox, there were a few deviations from the overall theme of the show), something went off the rails. Ute broke character, turned around to stare at the offending musicians for a painfully long time and then snapped around and nailed a scatted up version of Ireland’s own. I’m guessing a few unlucky souls in the brass section got an earful after the performance. An inside source reported to me that she was a real ‘Dragon Lady’ during rehearsals. The woman’s name is Ute, that alone practically screams diva.
If the name of Lemper ever hits your hometown marquee, I would encourage you to pony up the money and get ready for a night of real, live entertainment. She’s the next best thing to time travelling back to the era of The Blue Angel.
Ute Lemper: 8/10