[Live Review] Cellar Darling, De Helling Utrecht

Cellar Darling Helling

When Cellar Darling announced they’d hit Utrecht on one of their dates for their tour in support of The Spell, we just had to be there. Here’s what we thought.

Having played in the United Kingdom for two weeks promoting their brand new album The Spell, Cellar Darling decided to cap off the small tour in Utrecht. To my (and the band’s) surprise, De Helling is filled rather well for a Tuesday evening, especially when you realise that Cellar Darling is still an up-and-coming band and there’s is no support act whatsoever. This has the added bonus of not having to sit through one or two other bands you might not care for, and for the more than amicable entry fee of sixteen euros, we can’t really complain.

Cellar Darling kicks off the concert with four songs from their debut album This is the Sound, starting with the single Black Moon. The playing is tight, the sound not bad at all, although drummer Merlin Sutter is repeatedly plagued by technical issues during the opening phase of the gig. This leads vocalist (and hurdy-gurdy and flute player) Anna Murphy into uncomfortably teaching us some things about Swiss people. When she says she’d rather perform than talk, she’s definitely not kidding. What this forced interaction with the crowd does though, is create a very intimate atmosphere, as if De Helling is a big living room and we’re all having a pint and a laugh together.

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When the band continues with Hullaballoo and Avalanche, one thing becomes clear: Murphy is a vocal powerhouse. It’s been a long time since I heard someone able to bring so much heartfelt emotion, nuance and sheer power into their vocals, and tonight she never ceases to impress. It also makes one wonder why a voice like hers was so criminally underused when she was still in Eluveitie. After Six Days, the band launches into Pain, the opening track from The Spell. It marks a shift in tone for the concert, moving from more lighthearted fare to darker and more complex material. To the band’s credit, they pull the new songs off well, and they are received enthusiastically too. With eight of the thirteen songs played in the sequence, the set flows as well as the album, and as a promotional gig for The Spell’s release that is absolutely fine. It does make me look forward to future concerts though, with the material from both albums mixed up a bit more.

The new songs work great on stage too, stripped from their studio embellishments and presented in a more raw and basic form. Especially the title track from The Spell is impressive, as is the way Murphy belts out the chorus on Freeze, and with the simple but very effective lighting, Cellar Darling truly casts a spell over the audience here. The only time tonight where it is broken ever so slightly is during the first half of Insomnia, where the staccato riffing and illogical breaks come across a little messy. It’s a small blemish on an otherwise flawlessly played concert. After the regular set comes to a close, we are treated to the cover version of Queen’s The Prophet’s Song. “We were told you’re not allowed to cover Queen,” she explains, “but we didn’t know that so we did.” I’m glad they did, because even though the original version is of course untouchable (and a better song than Bohemian Rhapsody), it shows a lot of guts to even attempt covering it. Cellar Darling does a more than admirable job of playing this juggernaut live tonight and, just as they did in the studio, turn it into a far more melancholy song than it ever was. They close things off appropriately with Redemption, the closing track from This is the Sound.

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It’s safe to say that Cellar Darling came, saw and and conquered De Helling tonight. With an impressive audience turning up and a more than satisfactory setlist, there is nothing to complain about tonight, and in a welcome break from the usual concert night out, it was a short one without fluff in the form of support acts. Just the band you want to see, giving it their absolute best and impressing just about every turn of the way, leaving more than enough time at the end of the evening to catch your respective buses, trains, trams and whatnot home in time for a good night’s sleep. What more could one wish for, except for them to come back sooner rather than later for a rematch. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with The Prophet’s Song.

Setlist:

  1. Black Moon
  2. Hullaballoo
  3. Avalanche
  4. Six Days
  5. Pain
  6. Death
  7. Love
  8. The Spell
  9. Burn
  10. Insomnia
  11. Freeze
  12. Love Pt. II
  13. The Prophet’s Song (Queen cover)
  14. Redemption

Further surfing:

Review by Ralph Plug

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