KOVACS at Paradiso in Amsterdam

A rising pop-soul (-with-a-twist) Dutch singer Sharon Kovacs justifiably sold out her concert at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, and undoubtedly multiplied the number of her devotees.

After the gentle beginning with the opening act by Judy Blank — the overall chatty atmosphere inside of a converted former church silenced — Kovacs appeared on the stage. In her heavy duty army boots, shaved hair, and plastic trench coat, she relentlessly stepped in front of the microphone and started singing straight away. Her velvet voice alone filled up the venue and soon joined by other instruments, she continued to sing for half an hour, after which she finally spoke and said a couple of words in Dutch.

Charismatic young Sharon studied music in Eindhoven, and has since then been compared to big soul stars like Etta James, or Amy Winehouse. She has just published a new album, her second one so far, called Cheap Smell with a bit of a darker twist. Songs deal with themes of wild and abusive love, addiction and other complicated emotions that this ‘Dutch Nina Simone’ had to deal with in recent years.

Her head-on performance, with sound loudness and clarity almost perfectly adjusted to the immersive venue, was opposed with her choice of songs — as if not yet confident enough in her new material, she started the show with old hits and then very slowly progressed to her new material. The only exception was the album title song Cheap Smell, which she sang a bit too soon, while the audience was still observing her plastic outfit and adjusting to the beautifully lit church windows in the background. Very well executed, with a painfully raw sound (compared to the cleaner studio version), the song did not successfully achieve the effect her devotees would expect from such a Bond-like masterpiece.

Vocals were sometimes just a bit too low, in comparison to other instruments, which made her voice occasionally drown in otherwise pleasant sea of trumpet, guitar, drums, synthesiser and two back vocalists. Nonetheless, her new songs are darker and heavier pieces that beautifully suit her voice and aesthetics. With unlimited source of energy, she didn’t stop until the end, when the audience lured her out for final two songs, while she was desperately trying to remove her plastic trousers.

There were quite a few special moments when Kovacs’ voice and the trumpet engaged in a splendid musical pas de deux, especially in her old hit Shirley (Sound of the Underground), or the new emotionally charged Mama & Papa. The concert was overall a great success for the Dutch artist, and definitely a good practice for future bigger concerts equipped with more confidence in her new work, hopefully already in 2019 on her tour in Greece and Germany.         Eva Tisnikar      16th December 2018