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Helena Johnson// Studio 2, Parr Street/2.2.14

Sprinting from the East Village Arts Club, weaving through the crowds of giddy Foals fans who were heading home after two hours of overt carnage, I frantically sought out Studio 2 on adjacent Parr street.  Thankfully finding my location, and being let in for free because “there’s only one act left anyway” I settled into my newer, and noticeably more serene location. Despite the intense hotfooting it took to get there, I was somewhat glad to trade the guttural screaming and evaporating sweaty miasma of a Foals crowd for excited-yet-pleasantly-hushed murmurs and rising candle smoke that permeated studio 2, made more pleasant by my synchronized arrival with headline act, Helena Johnson’s, set opening.

Obeying the textbook of live performance, and starting with an upbeat number Helena Johnson and her band plough forwards with a noticeable high level of execution, systematic almost. Indeed, I have come to expect such high standards from most LIPA formed bands I’ve witnessed over the past couple of years, yet this troupe seems even more finely tuned than others. Before long the well-oiled machine glided forwards onto the almost maddeningly infectious ‘No You Didn’t’, a verse sure to wedge itself into the subconscious of even the most stoical of music fans. Far from just a pretty face (or a catchy chorus, rather) ‘No You Didn’t’ boasts a nuanced fusion of jazz tainted brass, funk and, as I later described in my dishevelled notes for the night, highbrow pop. Helena adopts this mysterious genre throughout her set, effortlessly exploring every octave with astounding vocal ability, only reinforced and harmonised by an equally talented backing vocalist, who seemed happy standing second fiddle, despite also having obvious vocal talent.

Helena, having no problems belting her songs out, appears all the more introverted chatting to the crowd in the spaces in between. The set reaches a point whereupon she anecdotally explains the title change of the next song, citing most of her set had the word “take” in the name so she had to have one song without it. Perhaps significant in the way that, some songs in the set could be accused of lacking a sense of identity – arbitrarily changing the name of a song doesn’t seem too tasking. Perfect execution, yes; but sometimes there is the need for a little reckless abandon.

Regardless, the lack of risk could be accounted towards the headline slot the band is trying, and largely succeeding to fulfil. New single ‘Naïve’, despite not getting a spoken introduction, stands out in similar fashion to ‘No You Didn’t’, powerful vocal weaved over subtly crafted instrumental sections creating that unique sound the band has coined, and mastered. The penultimate and final song of the set marks the arrival of a rap artist and a new dimension to the songs, providing that element of risk I seem to be banging on about in my notes. And (at the threat of sounding contradictory), although to begin with it my appear slightly gimmicky, the set finale, ‘Goldfinger’ showcases how this dimension has the potential for exciting further work for the band, both in recorded and live material. Despite being relatively short, for a headline set, the right impression has been firmly made, achieving high praise from a crowd who seem to have higher standards than your everyday music dilettante.

/George Aird

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