Hawke's Bay Arts Festival / 23 October 2019 / By Michael Hawksworth
“I’ll show you mine.
I’ll show you yours…”
It’s telling that one of the highlights of Reb Fountain’s latest performance at the Art Festival’s Spiegeltent is a cover of Bob Dylan’s timelessly provocative “Just Like a Woman”. Not that other women haven’t covered it before, but its how Fountain and her bandmates do it. Slowed to a crawl, its spare ticking rhythm is reminiscent of Massive Attack’s classic “Tear Drop” around which the singer curls the ambiguous lyrics with a loose improvisatory feel that renders it wounded and slightly queasy. It’s one of the best Dylan interpretations I’ve heard, and of course “wounded” and “queasy” fit right into Reb Fountain’s world view. She owns it.
She’s changing. But then she’s always changing, pushing against the genre constraints, even as she’s making love to them. She’s a bit like Nick Cave in that way, and there’s someone else who’s lately found a home in bare-bones arrangement/production. Dave Khan’s influence as producer is most obvious in the set’s darker moments. The experimentalism of the extended instrumental set opener where the musicians abuse their instruments to conjure up a distorted reflection of the tropes of Americana unfortunately rarely returns. It does provide a glimpse of an even more alternative Reb Fountain (though, admittedly a less accessible one).
Fountain’s new songs are tough and tense, and her country roots show through. She’s rarely as elegiac or fey as Tiny Ruins and, thankfully, never as affected as Aldous Harding. When her voice swoops or barks or breaks, it’s earned, there’s no other way. The dramas of disillusionment and disbelief are raw and palpable.
The presiding spirit tonight is quite explicitly Patti Smith, whose vocal attack is directly lifted for sections of “Gold” and whose song “Privilege” is covered by Fountain with considerable energy and love.
Though the band generally tour through the various byways of alt-country ™, other, more unexpected influences and directions are hinted at within: Reb Fountain at times seems to be actively knocking through that thin plasterboard wall into the relatively over-lit realms of intelligent pop ™. One song seemed to channel “The Kick Inside”-era Kate Bush (albeit without the glass-shattering squeal). Another, possibly called “Crazy (Like my love)” had that Tori Amos-like quality, epic, declamatory, though, appropriately enough for a song called “Crazy” it schizophrenically broke into a very Jim Morrison-esque spoken-word fantasia. Fountain has got the songs, the voice, the imagination, and now the producer to up the pop ante. I wonder what 2020’s new album has in store.
Reb Fountain spent the evening valiantly slugging ‘medicinal’ whiskey from a paper cup in an effort to preserve her sore throat. Honestly, until the last couple of songs, I’d never have known. She was in formidable voice. Following the loose-limbed flamenco funk of “The Last Word” (again, I’m not sure of these song titles, you’ll have to forgive my lack of research, it’s 11.00pm), we arrived at the pissed off snarl of “Don’t you know who I am” which featured some truly unhinged vocal gymnastics, not, I hasten to add, to demonstrate her range under fire, but in service of a fearful desperation. It was an electrifying end to the gig proper. Thunderous applause brought her back for an encore that included a fragile rendering of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.”
“I’m a regular animal,
I got what I came for…”
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