Chrysta Bell - Holywell Room, Oxford
Produced by David Lynch. Those words litter everything about Chrysta Bell. Both her album and Bell herself have been “produced by David Lynch”; she’s his protégée, his “sexy alien”, ten years in the making. Bell is also on her first UK tour, playing select dates, one of which is in the slightly obscure surroundings of the Holywell Room in Oxford University’s Faculty of Music.
The venue is slightly more austere than she's used to. Rather than the glamorously sultry Lynch-directed promo videos, the naked mannequins, large organ (of the musical variety), high ceiling, massive chandeliers, and church-like pews all seem at odds with her carefully managed presentation. It seems an unlikely venue for the show and in a twist of the narrative worthy of Lynch himself, Bell is actually the support act tonight. Her touring support band, Candy Says, are launching their debut album in their hometown, and somewhat improbably Bell has agreed to open the show.
And what you get is pretty much as expected. Bell could have walked straight off of the Mulholland Drive set. The Texan is tall, sultry, with her long red hair carefully positioned over one shoulder and wearing a slinky dress. Her performance is very nuanced, very deliberate, a great example being ‘This Train’ and its breathless, faux sexy delivery. The music only adds to this presentation, the atmospheric wind blowing through the intro to ‘Angel Star’, the leftfield noises and mood of ‘Down By Babylon’. Standout track of the night comes right at the end, with the electric blues of ‘Swing With Me’ one of the few times the facade slips slightly and it looks like she’s actually enjoying herself.
The biggest surprise of the evening is the intelligent folk-inflected pop of nominal headliners Candy Says. Running through their soon to be released album in order - apart from one slip - they’re personable, confident, and energetic. Maybe the setting, audience, and vibe were more set for them than Chrysta Bell, but as with any David lynch production things didn’t turn out quite as you’d expect.