The singer brings her astonishing storytelling to Evolutionary Arts Hackney for spellbinding set
EartH in Hackney has an openness to it that lends itself to folk. There’s a sort of egalitarian feel to its design in that there’s no jostling for the best spot – anywhere you choose to position yourself gives you an uninhibited view of the stage. The crowd assembled to watch rising star Paris Paloma are neatly lined up along the venue’s sloping rows, the space immediately in front of the stage stands empty.
“Do you guys want to come down here?” asks Paloma after opener ‘notre dame’. Cue a migration of people from the stands to the foot of the stage, eager but gentle. Paloma receives them with a smile, the leader of this politely loving coven. Unlike many newer artists, Paloma doesn’t force her presence onstage; doesn’t attempt to appear more of a veteran than she is. She endears us to her with whispered punchlines and genuine warmth. Her voice, more astonishing than usual, bouncing around the EartH theatre, is spellbinding. Her songwriting is transporting.
She tells a story about halfway through the set of an accident in an old churchyard. The song she’s teeing up is ‘the last beautiful thing I saw is the thing that blinded me’, a haunting Icarus tale that describes a flash of colour before darkness. Paloma explains the more literal inspiration behind the track – she herself was staring up at a glass window that shattered and hit her eye, temporarily blinding her. Of course, she says, there is a sadder way to interpret the song, but she isn’t going to go into it.
This colours much of Paloma’s music: beautiful, evocative, in many ways easy to access, but deeply sad at heart. Her biggest hit, ‘labour’, is sung along to with gusto by a mostly quietly respectful crowd, smiles on the faces of those crowded at the front of the stage. But the truth behind ‘labour’, a lament of weaponized incompetence and the sacrifice of female lives in servitude of husband and family, is a brutal one. So too is the case with latest release, ‘as good a reason’, a wickedly catchy ode to the women throughout history who have turned to murder as a matter of self-preservation.
The TikTok generation loves both a sad song and a feminist anthem. Paloma herself has found great success on the platform. But what makes her so interesting as an artist – and so watchable as a performer – is the generational pain she incorporates into all that she does; the personal stakes she implies, and the parallels she draws between the past and the present. In short, everything that the very best folk music should do. The unreleased tracks we are treated to muse on climate anxiety and the constant vigilance required to be a woman with male friends, more themes guaranteed to resonate with her coven. If this hushed silence in Hackney’s EartH is worship, then long may Paris reign.