– Yes Basement, Manchester –



“Does anyone have any questions or concerns?” Tomberlin, or Sarah Beth Tomberlin, to give her full name, asks us as she re-tunes her guitar for the umpteenth time this evening. A shy Monday night crowd in the Yes basement make some non-committal murmurs; “No? Ok, well I guess I should play some more”. This is an intimate evening with Tomberlin, who, fresh from releasing her brilliant second album ‘I don’t know who needs to hear this…’, is embarking on a solo tour of some smaller spaces across the UK armed only with her acoustic guitar and her pure voice, to “play these songs like I wrote them”, by which she means without the increased instrumentation that can be found across the album. It’s just us and her, there are no barriers between audience and artist, and it makes for a delightful bank holiday evening.

Such nights come round rarely. Tomberlin is exceptionally open with the audience, and after the stunning, heart-breaking opener of ‘Any Other Way’ from her debut ‘At Weddings’ she confesses that she’s left her setlist back at the hotel, and despite knowing her way around it, is open to any audience requests. I’m not sure I’ve seen an artist open themselves up quite so much but knowing how confessional and direct her songs can be, maybe it should be expected. After having to refuse one request for ‘Tornado’ due to it “being piano based, and, you know, won’t hit as hard on guitar”, she plays ‘Sin’ from her 2020 EP ‘Projections’, one of the lighter moments of the evening as we sing along gently to the repeated refrain of “say a prayer, lay your hands on me/I just wanna be clean”. She asks us if we want to hear ‘Seventeen’, a song you could say is her “hit”, and of course we do, telling us a story of when she was on stage at a big New York gig and blurted out to the bemusement of the crowd “straight people love this song”, and instantly being filled with regret about the comment. It’s little goofy moments like this, and her thanking a fan in attendance for providing her with three joints in a Pineapple Express DVD last night before she sings ‘Stoned’, that make tonight such a lovely, heart-warming one, despite the context of her songs being generally heavy on the sadness.

Occasionally she lets her gentle voice rip, as on the unbelievable ‘Untitled 1’, where she wails “But I love you / yes I love you / or I’m trying to”, as I try and stem the water trickling from my eyes, or on ‘Stoned’, my standout from her new album, which reaches probably the loudest crescendo of the night before being brought right back to the almost whispered, feels hitting end line of “I walked home from the party…alone”. The heart-warming reaches a peak with the final track ‘idkwntht’, where she asks us to join her in a call and response singalong, which naturally she will indicate with a theatrical wink when we’re needed. Hearing the small crowd gently take the place of Felix Walworth who is the “response” on the record, singing “I don’t know who needs to hear this / sometimes it’s good to sing your feelings”, is the equivalent of snuggling under a blanket on a freezing night in front of a roaring fire with a glass of red wine. It may sound like a cliché written down like that, but it was a genuinely lovely communal gig moment, the kind of which I have dearly missed. What a special, intimate evening Tomberlin created here. I will try and catch her on tour with a band later this year, but the warm embrace of this gig will be hard to beat.

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