With just 15 minutes to go before Anna Phoebe is due to start her performance, the concert hall is empty.
There’s literally nobody to be seen. But, as if answering an inaudible cue, crowds suddenly throng into the modern auditorium and the place is comfortingly packed by the time the virtuoso violinist strolls onstage.
Phoebe’s set is part of the Songlines Encounters Festival, an earnest folk-oriented endeavour that attracts the sort of people who listen intently to every note without making a sound. It makes for an almost eerie atmosphere with more in common with a classical recital than a rock gig, but this doesn’t deter Phoebe who, as usual, delivers a flamboyant show, even if her more physical approach is toned down tonight to suit the occasion.
The songs are all taken from recent EP Embrace and upcoming album Between The Shadow And The Soul. It makes sense because the vast majority of the people watching won’t be familiar with her previous work and so Phoebe can concentrate on presenting herself in a contemporary light.
Moving with a lithe intensity around the stage, Phoebe captivates with a presentation that allows her to be flashy while never sublimating the demands of each song to meet her own solo desires. It also helps that her supporting band are given space to accentuate their own abilities and musical mobility. Pianist Gordana Jovkovic joins the violinist for a contemplative, acoustic working of Embrace. Guitarist Nic Rizzi, who is also Phoebe’s long-term writing partner, impressively complements her irrepressible tendencies, while tabla player Simran Ghalley provides the sort of textures and shading that give the music an extra dimension.
The highlight of this short set is certainly recent single In Continuum, which sees the band – also featuring bassist Yves Fernandez and drummer Francesco Lucidi – locking together symbiotically in a beautiful play-off.
The enthusiastic applause at the end of this 45-minute whirlwind set suggests Phoebe has won a lot of new fans, while demonstrating her skill of adapting to new environments. She lost some of her renowned acrobatics to fit the festival and relied on those considerable bowing skills to show her worth. She also said very little between songs, thereby allowing the music to speak for her professionalism.
What this also underlines is how her band are now far more than faceless backing musicians. With a tranche of performances like this, the next year or so could finally see them all significantly breaking through. Malcolm Dome