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Cate Le Bon At Mercury Lounge, Friday, September 21st, 2012, Reviewed

After Cate Le Bon's set at Mercury Lounge Friday night, opening band Quilt's vocalist Shane Butler, puts an arm around my shoulder while enthusing, "We have opened for many, many bands but she was incredible".

Incredible she was. Cate Le Bon is the Welsh singer discovered by Gruff Rhys (of Super Furry Animals) and a huge star in transition. Her voice is a beautiful instrument that would be as lovely performing English folk like Fairport Convention as the hard rock, she preferred last night. Catching her today is akin to catching Florence Welch five years ago: there is that sense of an impending chart explosion. 

Cate started her career singing in her native Welsh, and though she sings in English the lilt in her voice suggests her roots clearly. On stage she has an easygoing tude, joking how the band substituted one song on the setlist. The song the band chose was a folkier number to the consistently hard rocking numbers off one of this years two releases, Cyrk.

The set is a workmanlike rip through the songs we know best, played straight up no chaser and only the odd strong constructions, her love for songs that twist on bridges, leading you off and back on the main strip, out of the mainstream. Le Bon is a tall woman, dressed in black tights and a black dress, as though she has joined a covenant and her songs have a dark hued implication at odds with her self deprecated every woman on stage ambience. It is ordinary magic and unearnest seriousness.

Nursing her way through Cyrk, with a nod at Cyrk 2, Cate took her band through an hour of hard rock, influenced by the scene surrounds Gruff but not to the place where "Greta" isn't a child of Fairport Convention: it has the same lilt if not the same style.

Another name being conjured is Nico, and it is somewhat Krautrocking when the band plays an extended jam, but Cate has a superb voice and is nothing like the undertow of Nico: the secret to Cate is the voice, it has the haunting quality of a Wicca, it's like what you imagine Lewis Grossman's Magicians to be listening to for kicks. Otherworldly but firmly planted in the here, somewhere between concrete sidewalks and the mountains of Wales, occasionally with the feminine liquidity of the Atlantic Ocean.

This dichotomy steers us through the set, from "Julia" to "Fold The Cloth" to "Cyrk" is not untypical for the woman, and the first three songs: a modern timelessness, sometimes the melodies stick, sometimes the environment is the message. If Florence And The Machine channel Emily Bronte's novel, Cate has her eye on her poetry. They are the classroom dalliance, mindbending, walking daymares of lost and found. Like she is in New York but dreaming about other places.

All of it is good, all of it. Though Cate is one person who would improve in a bigger setting. I would love to see her at radio City Music Hall and with a larger band behind her. I wish she was in Florence land. And I was really surprised Mercury Lounge didn't sell out because Le Bon has the type of sound that is so big, yet without being ostentatious, that NYU kids should be insane over it. It is odd rather than strange, it is in search of its audience and the right opening slot behind huge success. if U2 still had opening acts, it would fit right in there.

A new song, "Newie" was a pure pop rocker, a blast of melody and energy and among the best songs of the set. And though Cate claimed we probably couldn't see the seams between set closing "Ploughing Out Part 1" and "Ploughing Out Part 2", we could of course, and the acid trip gone wrong "Part 2" was a spectacular close.

My bet is Le Bon will break Stateside. I don't see how she can't. And she didn't even play "I Lust You"

Grade: B+

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