“Thank you for remembering me,” says Isobel Campbell. “We didn’t do any press, so we worried only five people would show up.”
Looking around a reasonably full room at Hotel Cecil, this seems like classic understatement, a part of the performance from a singer-songwriter whose nearly-25 year career involved stints in a beloved indie rock band and a multi-album collaboration with a titan of alternative rock, to say nothing of her five solo records.
But Campbell has kept a low profile in recent years. Her latest album, There is No Other…, released this month, is her first in almost 10 years. The new songs are a feature of the evening, the 60s inspired folk patterns drawing out her whispery vocals.
Opener Nina Violet is backing her on viola, bass, and guitar, but where she really shines is on vocals. They perform several songs from Campbell’s collaborations with Mark Lanegan, with Violet taking over Lanegan’s vocals. In particular, Violet’s lead vocals on “Seafaring Song” and “Something to Believe” not only highlighted her abilities in a way her own songs don’t, but adds a completely different dynamic to Campbell’s songs; the harmonies become soft and rich, freed from the gravel of Lanegan’s timbre.
This performance is not part of a wild Friday night out. Most of the songs are quiet enough that you can hear Campbell’s guitarist tapping his foot while he plays and the most intense moment of the set might be the harmonics she plays on her cello for the outro of “Thursday’s Child.” But while Campbell is warm and teasing between songs, it’s the gentleness of her voice that draws everyone in, and that gentleness carries through the whole set.
Campbell reveals that her final song is the first one she ever wrote, back when she was 21 years old. She doesn’t mention that it was for the band where she got her start, nor does anyone in the audience seem to be demanding songs from a group that Campbell has now been out of far longer than she was ever a member of. Still, the delight in the room when she begins “Is It Wicked Not To Care?” is palpable. And it’s a consistent, low-key way for her to bring the evening to a close.