Ainslie Wills live on 29 April 2014

In a word? Sublime.

On 29 April Ainslie Wills performed the closing night of her residency at The Retreat.

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‘Intimate’ is often used as a euphemism for ‘small’ or ‘unattended’. Not so here. The Retreat front bar was full to the brim of friends, fans and supporters. No, tonight was intimate in its closeness. While Ainslie sometimes comes across as aloof and untouchable (it could be the conspicuous absence of clear photos of her face), this time she was playing with us, not merely to us.

‘I feel like I’m performing in front of my family’.

Tonight Ainslie let her hair down and connected with her audience. It was the intimacy of a house concert. It was the intimacy of sharing stories at the bar. It was the intimacy of personally thanking an audience member who requested a song, or spontaneously asking her opening act (the down-to-earth Spender, tonight in solo mode) to sing a duet with her. It was the intimacy that’s rare and fun and inclusive and special. It was the intimacy we need more of, and that we should be thankful for.

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This is how you know you’re looking at the real deal. Ainslie weaved delight after delight without the benefit of her full band or even an elevated stage. Even with only herself, her guitar and bandmate Lawrence Folvig, Ainslie delivered swirling clouds of gorgeous sound to her audience. Her smooth expressive voice combined with two buttery electric guitars to create a divine aural experience. Both guitars and vocal explored a wide range of gorges sounds – sometimes soft and tender, sometimes strong, occasionally even somewhat angular… but never harsh or rough.

Ainslie describes her music as folk-rock, but this reviewer considers the description a disservice. Too electric for folk yet not heavy enough for rock, Ainslie’s music occupies a lovely middle-ground borrowing elements of both and brewing them as something glorious and new.

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Equally impressive was all the technology on the floor. While Ainslie had just a few guitar pedals at her feet, her bandmate Lawrence commanded an impressive array of mysterious and fascinating devices on the floor in front of him. And it wasn’t just for show – far from it. Lawrence coaxed some amazing sounds to complement and support Ainslie’s songs. There were percussive loops, shimmering pitch-shifted reverbs, spiralling echoes and even sustained ambient pad-like sounds. At times it was difficult to believe we were listening to exactly two guitars and a voice. The only downside was the occasional gaps between songs. But even that was inconsequential – they were well-covered by Ainslie’s engaging storytelling.

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If you didn’t make it, don’t despair. Head over to Ainslie’s website (http://www.ainsliewills.com) and get on her mailing list. If you’re still not convinced, take a listen to her album (http://ainsliewills.bandcamp.com). I dare you.

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Photography by Obsessive Music