There are few words, if any, that can describe the scene at New York’s Housing Works Bookstore Cafe last night. Keaton Henson’s introspective collection of songs about heartbreak and love lost translated to the live stage perfectly. Henson’s severe stage fright and forlorn personality subsided just long enough for the 24-year old singer-songwriter to perform a short but potent set for a small crowd of 100+. The performance was devastating. It was emotive and overwhelming. And it was the first-ever U.S. performance by this reigning master of melancholy. The sound system at Housing Works transmitted Henson’s unique vocal delivery and intonation with his lone electric guitar marvelously, leaving the intimate crowd flustered and speechless. The accompaniment of a live cellist complimented Henson’s minimalist catalog efficaciously.
And if you must die sweetheart, die knowing your life was my life’s best part.
Keaton said very little between songs but did respond to a few comments from the audience. A highlight was his response to a fan who called out, “We love you, Keaton,” to which Henson retorted “I’ll disappoint you when I’m married.” It was a rare light-hearted moment that signaled a mutual respect between a burgeoning artist and his growingly obsessive fan base. Keaton’s live version of “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are,” one of our favorite tracks of 2011, was the highlight of the night. Henson also played songs from Birthdays, his sophomore release, including “Sweetheart, What Have You Done To Us” to open his set. Keaton dedicated his last song, “You,” to the audience and revealed the song was about everyone in attendance. The track features his most devastating lyrics on Birthdays. Henson declares, nearly in tears, “And if you must die sweetheart, die knowing your life was my life’s best part.” To call the performance the pinnacle of my years of concert-going experiences would be an understatement.