he pains of being a famous beauty with a superstar boyfriend and a glamorous Hollywood lifestyle may be unlikely lyrical themes for winning audience empathy, but Suki Waterhouse somehow managed to make these First World Problems sound compelling at the first of two back-to-back shows in the intimate theatre space of Omeara.
Backed by an all-female band, the 30-year-old model, actor and singer-songwriter earned a rapturous reception at this rare hometown show, and not just because most of her family were in the audience. Cooing languid lullabies and sultry torch songs in a breathy mid-Atlantic twang, she came over very much like Chiswick’s answer to Lana Del Rey at times.
Waterhouse’s 45-minute set mostly consisted of tracks from her debut album, I Can’t Let Go, released last month to generally positive reviews. Which is quite some feat, considering the singer’s potentially off-putting back story as a successful catwalk queen with a history of movie-star boyfriends, including current beau Robert Pattinson. At worst, her move into music risks looking like just another dilettante fashionista with delusions of pop-star talent.
But Waterhouse’s new sideline comes with at least a modicum of indie-rock credibility. After all, she is signed to Sub Pop, the cult Seattle label famous for launching Nirvana, while her album was produced by Brad Cook, feted for his work with Bon Iver and The War on Drugs.
Waterhouse hit a few technical glitches early in the set, arriving onstage to sing the sardonic celeb-life commentary Bullshit on the Internet into a dead microphone. Ten minutes later, she had to restart the husky-voiced dream-pop lament My Mind following another sound system failure. To her credit, she handled these minor setbacks with grace and humour.
Repeatedly clutching at her lustrous waterfall of hair while coquettishly caressing the microphone stand, Waterhouse performed with far too much self-conscious poise to cut the mustard as a wild rock’n’roller. Her most punky song, Neon Signs, sounded strained and gauche. But heartbroken melodrama is her forte, and she delivered plenty of it, drawing on a range of retro-leaning Americana influences from woozy alt-county and noir-ish folk-rock to the booming, reverb-heavy, girl-group sound pioneered by Phil Spector.
After a shaky start, Waterhouse finally touched on greatness with the lusty, chiming girl-crush anthem Johanna. The tear-stained piano ballads Brutally and The Coolest Place in the World both sounded mighty fine too, while former single Moves triggered a mass audience sing-along. But the peak of this performance was Good Looking, a tumbling, crashing love letter to the bittersweet intoxication of being adored by a handsome lover. Who could she possibly mean?
Even if this show was a little too short and slight to emphatically signpost a bright pop future, it was a persuasive display of Waterhouse’s voluptuous vocal skills and emotionally raw lyrics.
Suki Waterhouse plays Omeara again tonight, Thurs 9; omearalondon.com