Discovering Au/Ra – A path of many obstacles
It’s June 10th, I’ve left my house just after midnight with a backpack slung over my shoulders and the understanding that I won’t see this place again for 9 days. Me, the month of June, and concerts go hand in hand like the white chocolate and cookies on the new Magnum ice creams (They’re not sponsoring me but damnit they’re tasty). I’ve gone concert crazy the last few June’s running, but this year would be something well beyond the realms of previous achievement. I catch my late coach to Dublin airport full of excitement and contemplation of the events that are set to unfold. Fast forward a few hours and the sun hovers low in the sky as I take my first steps off the plane that has just transported me to Paris. I’ve never been to Paris before. Why am I in Paris…?
It’s November 27th, 2018. I’m sitting on the 5PM coach to Dublin, I’m tired after working a full shift in Cork, but above that I’m excited. I’m gonna see one of my favourite artists EDEN play in the Olympia Theatre again, that’s twice this year now. I’m curious about the new discovery I’m gonna make with his support act. I like her name, Au/Ra, and a quick glance to her profile has my curiosity piqued big time, she looks fucking cool. What’s she gonna sound like, I wonder to myself. Sure, I’ve got my earphones on me, it’s just a click away. But I’m not about to break my rule. I’m a sucker for live discovery of music, if I know I’m already going to see someone live then I explicitly do not listen to their music in advance, I love that moment of it all unveiling right there before me from the stage. I’m gonna be in Dublin for 8 O Clock, if I’m quick on my feet I’ll barely even miss her first song. That annoys me enough, but I have to settle for it.
It’s 8 O Clock. Why aren’t we rolling through Dublin City center right now? We don’t even seem to be remotely near there. We suddenly come up to Dublin Airport, every passenger on the coach aghast. The bus is NOT meant to be here. Only one person on this entire bus is even going to the airport, the driver has messed up big time here and there’s outrage. He’s gone the wrong way on a 2 stop bus route, putting us all out by a 30 minute delay. I’m stressed all the way to Dublin after we leave the airport again. The bus barely stops at the curb and I’m off, running to the Olympia. I race through the streets and enter the venue quick time. There’s Au/Ra on stage, the unmissable green hair… As she says goodbye to the crowd and thanks everyone, her set over. You have goooot to be kidding me.
The concert is over, I’m on a bus straight back to Cork for work again in the morning, exhausted, elated, EDEN just put on an incredible show. I gotta see what that Au/Ra one was like though, so it’s earphones in and Spotify up. I didn’t think I could hate that bus driver any more than I already did. It’s apparent after just one listen through of what Au/Ra has online that, yes, I absolutely could hate that driver more. He kept me from hearing this live, this music that I am actively falling in love with from the first moment I’m exposed to it. And so, mission improbable is now in effect: See Au/Ra live, ASAP. Should be a piece of cake right, I mean she only lives in Antigua in the Caribbean Islands, so touring in this part of the world is tooootally gonna be a regular thing, round the corner as it is (/sarcasm).
It’s early 2019, and I get the notification I’ve been dying to see. Au/Ra has a mini tour of Europe coming up! Yes! It… doesn’t include Ireland. Bugger. But it’s in June, that’s when my holiday time from work is due. I narrow down the options to 2 possibilities, Paris or Berlin. It comes down to the flip of a coin pretty much, and I settle on Paris, I’ve always wanted to get to France eventually. Flights booked, ticket bought, the world ain’t stopping me this time!
Being a tourist
Having flown so early into Paris, I’ve a bright day ahead of playing the part of a tourist. I may be purely here on the basis of chasing the music wherever it takes me, but I can allow a moment to take in some sights. With that in mind I get the bus in from the airport, catching my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower from a distance as we approach the city. The weather is beautiful so I’ve no qualms about the several KM walking distances I’m about to be faced with going every which way. I load up google maps, Spotify has Au/Ra on cycle, and I naturally aim for the Eiffel tower. Along the way I detour slightly to marvel at the Arc de Triomphe. It’s only then I make the fun discovery that the entire giant road surrounding the monument operates as a shared space. So, a free-for-all which made for quite the interesting experience just crossing to and from the structure.
I also encounter the less pretty side of a tourist city like Paris. The constant aggressive selling, begging and manipulation bombarding from all sides as everyone has one objective, part the tourist and their money from each other. Travelling alone and meek willed as I am at times, I’m not entirely successful at avoiding all these traps and am rather unwillingly parted with 10 or so euros of my light travelling funds in my first hour there, though I am hardier for it after and avoid repeating occurrences. I witness the Eiffel tower first hand, go see another few bits then I decide it’s high time I venture in the direction of the venue. A quick detour to look at the aftermath of the Notre-Dame, and I finally find myself outside the venue for the evening – Le Pop-Up du Label. I chill outside, making a new friend with a fellow gig attendee, and wait a few hours for the doors to open. It’s at this very moment that I am dealt a massive blow to my plans for the week. I receive a snapchat from my best concert buddy Kathryn asking if I’d seen Snow Patrol’s post, and her saying she’s so sorry. Confused, I race to Facebook to witness the news. See, Paris was not the only destination in my international plan of mischief, 2 days later I was set to fly to Germany to go and see Snow Patrol perform in Stuttgart, something I was extremely excited for and had spent heavy funds in planning. Snow Patrol have just posted that Nathan Connolly has completely lost the use of his hand, and their show in Stuttgart is cancelled. Safe to say, I’m distraught, and now I’m looking towards the show later more than ever as a beacon to pick me up and repair my bad mood.
We’re let into the venue and I excitedly make my way inside, getting a cozy spot right in front of the stage. Although I learned some French in school, I’ve typically lost it all when I actually find myself in France. For a while I wait in silence, before eventually piping up in English and starting conversation with some of the fellow fans, and I’m relieved that we pick up on steady chatter and make more acquaintances in the moment. Before too long the support act for the evening, Charlotte, takes to the stage. Another new discovery for me, hailing from Hull in the UK, it’s just herself and her Guitarist Joe with us on this evening. Early observations are that she’s chatty with good humour, and seems very nice and friendly.
When she gets to singing though, that’s when the true magic happens. She absolutely blows me away with the beauty and depth behind every word she sings, channeling something special through every note hit. As it so happens, her debut EP ‘Nowhere To Hide’ has made its way out into the world only a couple days earlier. She has not acquired a Piano for this particular performance and thus has to refrain from playing a couple of her songs which rely heavier on the instrument, although she does opt to give us exclusive first ears on some new material she’s been writing which goes down a right treat. Elsewhere in the set she drops in a cover of ‘Redbone’ by Childish Gambino, which Joe has wonderfully adapted on Acoustic Guitar gaining particularly favourable response from the crowd. Standout songs to me from the performance are ‘Somebody To Hold’ from the EP, and her well known song ‘Nervous’. When she leaves the stage, it doesn’t feel like we got to see her for long enough and I’m already longing to hear more.
F I N A L L Y. It’s perhaps been the most obstacle ridden path I’ve ever traversed to become a fan of an artist, but it takes a lot more than a little debris thrown by the universe to deter me. I’ve found myself right here, locked in the moment and the seconds counting down. The room is dark, there’s a palpable electricity in the air, I almost expect to see mini forks of lightning to flash through the smoke cloud shrouding the stage. The perfect storm brews nearly to the point of crescendo, then the music kicks in and Au/Ra flits through the crowd to the stage, masked up in very much the embodiment of her first song ‘Assassin’, and the wildness begins. This stage is very much Au/Ra’s domain as she dances the length of it performing her heart out to the crowd, emotions are running high all round in this intimate setting. She’s quick to crack out a new song when she goes into ‘Dance In The Dark’, the atmosphere dropping real low and thick for this heavy pulsing number. Beneath the veil of the heavy dancy vibes one can see this is really an intensely personal song and I’m in awe of Au/Ra’s power in delivering it.
Moving through the set we’re treated to great songs from the catalog both released and unreleased, from Outlaws and Junk Food (Which is totally about Junk Food and only Junk Food, definitely no hidden meanings in this song whatsoever promises Au/Ra), to fan favourite X Games and then the cult gem that I was unaware of due to missing out on her sets before, Drake. Yes, about THAT Drake, a funny and somewhat adorable ode to the rapper where Au/Ra recalls a time she added Drake on Playstation Network and genuinely hoped he would actually accept. As you would expect, he didn’t, and to process that heartbreak she wrote this wonderful little song about it. I’m confident at this rate she’ll get to meet and/or collaborate with the man in the next couple of years and it’ll all come full circle. Following on from that Au/Ra smashes another fan favourite in the form of her song ‘Emoji’ before going into another new song, the exquisitely beautiful and hauntingly emotional piece that is ‘Medicine’. I’m not crying, you are, ok we both are, shut up. I was soooo not expecting the amount of oomph packed into this song and the room received it without so much as a sound, bar perhaps some sniffles, such was the respect it commanded. Coupled with the earlier track Dance in the Dark, Au/Ra delivers a harrowing look into Depression and Anxiety here and for capturing it like she has I just want to reach out and hug her soul.
At this point I’m really trying not to realize the fact that there isn’t too much longer left in this set as I totally just want to exist in this moment now and let it go on forever. Alas, we approach the end of the evening with ‘White Knuckles’ and a special acoustic performance of the song ‘Darkside’ which is a collaboration with the incredible Alan Walker. With that there’s only one thing for it, and all the Green Beans (Au/Ra fans nickname) in the room are in on a secret that we’ve been waiting all show to reveal to Au/Ra. Heading into the song ‘Outsiders’, this is our cue to pull out our phones collectively. Organized by a fan who goes by the name ‘Yungbludhearts’ on Instagram (Go follow!), everyone had been passed around green heart shaped pieces of paper before the show, which shining our flashlights through would produce a green filter of light. I’ve only experienced something like that once before, at a Twenty One Pilots concert, and it truly is a spectacle to behold with all our green lights waving to Au/Ra. Safe to say, she was so totally moved by this incredible display and had not expected it at all, and we all shared a special emotional moment. We finished up with an encore featuring the song ‘Panic Room’ which evolved into the remix version, and last but not least ‘Concrete Jungle’, and thus it was all over.
It’s probably worth noting at this point that I may have been a biiiit of an idiot. See, many months prior I purchased Au/Ra’s t-shirt and mini green vinyl from her online store and had been very much enjoying them. Somehow, just before departing my house the evening before flying to Paris, my Au/Ra shirt that had been top of the pile of things to pack had remained just there on my bed where I packed my bag. Epic fail. I was not impressed with myself for that one. Alas we started the process of leaving the venue, a Merch table on the way had the vinyl and shirt I already have, plus a poster I didn’t have so I added that to my collection. Charlotte didn’t have merch at the time but in July I got to see her perform in Dublin and picked up a very cool hoodie and her new CD at that show, so I’ma show ’em off here.
The queue leaving was slow moving as Au/Ra was waiting at the other end meeting all the fans and to her credit she really gave every single person the time of day and attention, properly meeting everyone and I respect that so much. I hung back towards the end of the queue and let everyone have their moment until it got to my turn. Au/Ra really was so wonderful to meet and was just so friendly and appreciative of the support. I got to tell her all about the tale of how I came to be in this moment and we had a lovely lil conversation. Eventually the time came to part ways and I made my way back across Paris, ready to fly away again early in the morning. Which, actually, is a bit of a tale in itself. If you haven’t figured by now, I’m just a biiiit of a lunatic, and when I throw myself into adventure mode it really is full on. With that in mind, here’s something to understand about most of my flight based travel for concerts: I don’t really do accommodation. What’s worked out for me so far has been early morning flights, and overnight sitting the hours away in the airport itself until the flight, catching a few sparing z’s here and there. Fun fact: The smaller airport in Paris, from which I was flying, does something I had not yet had to deal with elsewhere, it closes at night. Completely. It also opens very late in comparison to a lot of airports, with doors at 6 AM. Yay me, rounded out the first day of my journey with a night of homelessness in Paris, what a magical way to end a magical evening.
Next stop in the Tour Fliary: Bristol. Coming… At some point? I’ll try not to take too long!