In London to premiere his latest musical American Psycho, Duncan Sheik headed across a wet wintry capital to front a gig at (Shepherds) Bush Hall, his first appearance in town since playing Dingwall’s in 1997.
With Spring Awakening already to his Broadway credit and notwithstanding its predominantly rapturous but certainly eclectic critical reception, American Psycho likely to follow suit (a West End transfer must surely be on the cards) it would be easy to assume Sheik is little more than an occasional writer of hit shows. Actually he’s a whole lot more and there is not just depth but breadth to his work too, with his singer/songwriter role borne out in an ever increasing number of album releases.
Under Simon Hale’s musical direction and backed by a string quartet, two keyboards and drums, Sheik was the sole and occasionally solo guitarist on the night. Starting on acoustic, The Love From Hell an acerbic album number, suggested a hint of Tom Waits amongst its angsty guilt. Lucie Jones, who impressively took time out from the gruelling demands of opening American Psycho at the Almeida, was to give a scorching Mama Who Bore Me from Spring Awakening, with Sheik’s accompaniment giving an edge of authentic nuance that sometimes only a song’s composer can truly achieve.
Sheik’s respect for the sound of the 80’s is well documented and in 2011 he released his album Duncan Sheik Covers 80s, featuring his own take on a dozen or so hits of the synth-pop era. On the night, his interpretation of Depeche Mode’s Stripped was another fine work and along with much of Sheik’s performance, continued to define him as a fine musician and performer.
With electric guitar replacing acoustic, Sheik treated the packed-out hall to This Is Not An Exit, as a snatch from American Psycho. The show is an 80’s satire and it says much for Sheik’s work that with hits from the era sprinkled throughout the work, his new compositions preserve the sound and the mood of so much that was vacuous in that decade. Matt Smith acts the song sublimely eight times a week, but in Sheik’s hands the number evolves from a musical theatre moment into a piercing comment upon the time. The show's original London cast need to release a recording soon for Sheik’s work demands nothing less than a considered listening.
Nearly twenty years has been too long to wait to hear this man on stage. He spoke of finding this west London audience and venue much more welcoming than his 1990’s Camden gig. With a new album due out in 2014, here’s hoping he returns here soon.
American Psycho plays at London's Almeida Theatre. My review can be found here.