When I discovered the gig was at Union Chapel, I realised its the perfect setting for Ex:Re; a working church by day and music venue by night, providing a serene atmosphere and perfect acoustics for the solo venture of Daughter’s lead singer, Elena Tonra.
I have seen Daughter twice before, supporting Benjamin Francis Leftwich in October 2011 and then supporting Ben Howard in February 2012. The band were making good progress breaking into the indie music scene; they toured successfully with many artists and their 2011 single ‘Youth’, from their second EP The Wild Youth, was a massive hit and has since been played over 172 million times on Spotify.
After the release of their most recent album in 2017, Elena began writing songs about a break up, deciding to explore this process solo as opposed to with the rest of her band, Igor and Remi. This seems a sensible decision, since Elena previously dated Igor before her most recent relationship and I’m sure it would have been fairly awkward to explore her sentiments together. Running parallel to Daughter, Elena’s solo album titled Ex:Re was released in November 2018 and is the most personal and haunting album yet. The name Ex:Re is pronounced X-ray and is, therefore, a clever play on both the revealing process of an X-ray, but it also literally means “regarding the ex.” This name summarises how this album is truly about getting over her ex, whilst also exposing the core of Elena’s deepest and darkest emotions during this heart-breaking time.
Elena walked onto stage into darkness, silence, and smoke, and began singing the final track on her album
I arrived at the venue just as the support act, Herbal Tea, had started singing. I heard faint echoes of her voice as we arrived at the entrance, but nothing could prepare me for the feeling of entering the doors of the church itself. It was pitch black, there was a single spotlight, and it was so incredibly quiet between the singer’s vocals that you could hear a pin drop. I stopped breathing for a few seconds, letting my eyes adjust enough to see people sat on pews facing the stage. When the lights came on after Herbal Tea’s performance, it was then possible to truly take in the beauty of the venue: the stone arches, the high ceiling, the altar on the stage which the photographer frequented. It was spectacular, and I took my seat a few pews back ready for Elena’s rich voice to fill the church.
No introduction necessary, Elena walked onto stage into darkness, silence, and smoke, and began singing the final track on her album, which happens to be the only one which involves just her chilling vocals and guitar. Starting with ‘My Heart’ really set the scene for the rest of the concert, as she sings to her ex, “in your hands, my heart.” This opener really proved how Elena alone can hold our hearts in her hands. Elena was then joined on stage by three instrumentalists who alternated between playing keyboard, guitar, drums, and cello. Elena herself swapped between her electric guitar and the bass guitar that she played so frequently in Daughter.
Together, they played three more songs from the start of the album. The fourth song they performed, ‘New York’, contains my favourite repeated lyric: “he is very conscious of the world, he recycles his words”. This highlights Elena’s witty brilliance when it comes to lyricism and how she can convey her ex’s insincerity through an ironic analogy. At this stage in the gig, Elena paused to laugh awkwardly about how happy she was to be in the beautiful venue, whilst also complaining about her sparkly jumpsuit that was making her overheat. Her self-deprecation is admirable, as it proves how humble and down-to-earth she is. The audience laughed along with her, cheering her on when she stumbled over her words – she is so much more confident singing than speaking. I sadly realised at this stage that we were nearly half way through the concert, as there are only 10 tracks on this album, and Elena’s desire to let her music speak for her makes the gig run more quickly and smoothly.
Elena’s desire to let her music speak for her makes the gig run more quickly and smoothly.
The concert continued, with my favourite song from the album second to last: the melodic piano track ‘5AM’. The simple four note chord progression builds throughout the song with the addition of the light drums and guitar; so simple but so effective, as the listener can just imagine Elena writing this at 5AM. Elena pronounced after the song had finished that she was experiencing a slight electric shock from the microphone. She stated this with a nervous laugh, joking that it would be fine if she was electrocuted because she is in a church! This statement was received by a cheer of laughter from the unexpectedly loud audience. Elena managed to perform her final track, ‘Romance’, without any electric shocks. This track was realised as a single and was therefore the perfect end to her main set, with its catchy upbeat chorus and similarity to many of Daughter’s most popular songs.
Luckily the depressing lyrics, “romance is dead and gone,” in the final song was not the end of the concert – Ex:Re returned on stage for an encore which had to be a cover as they had “no more songs!”. They covered ‘Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime’ by The Korgis. This slowed down version of the song made it almost unrecognisable, as Elena added her classic musical touch of repetitive drums and looping vocals. This finale can only be described as symbolic; after an album and concert and discussing a painful break up and heartache. She ends on a more positive note, signalling to the audience that this was just a learning curve. Maybe the cathartic experience of Elena’s first solo album has left her realising that she, too, has got to move on and learn sometime from this experience – and that time is now.