The Old University Grounds, whether inside or outside have been hosting a variety of cultural events over the past few years. Recent, ongoing restoration works have also given a more dignified look at this old building located at the lower, northern part of Valletta. It may be less upmarket than its central counterpart, but it still is quite a charming area that could become even more attractive if more upgrading takes place. MITP played host to this year’s Evenings on Campus. The activities ranged from drama, to mime, classical music, jazz and a fine, really entertaining evening of alternative music from Beangrowers, Malta’s leading act in this genre and Vanessa Contenay-Quinones, who, over the past three years, has been making waves with her band Vanessa and The Os and La Ballade d’O, a brilliant set of songs which was released some three years ago. This time, Vanessa performed an acoustic show with guitar player Nick Hornby.

Beangrowers returned to performing live in Malta after an absence of four years. They performed a set meant to promote their new album, Not In A Million Lovers. Famed for their quirky, eccentric pop, with equally quirky titles, this trio, which is the only Maltese act to date to perform at the prestigious South by Southwest Festival in Texas, delivered an acoustic set that delved into some new songs, lifted from their album. Their takes on Machines, and Love Can Do You No Harm were very well done, truly acoustic versions of the original studio cuts. As with other songs, they were also complemented by some wonderful stills of local and foreign events, past images of Malta, even Soviet Stalinist propaganda. Beangrowers also made it a point to deliver some well-known songs from their repertoire. Again, they did delivered comfortably, nonchalantly, and unpretentiously. There were some nice moments in Dance Dance Baby, Russian Boulevard, and Lucky Luka, as well as even older songs like Advantage McEnroe, which closed the first part of this show. By then, the audience, numbering around 250 on that warm, sultry August night, were indeed looking forward for Vanessa and co’s performance. The thing is that Beangrowers did manage to create a more angular presentation than ever before. It could well be the fact that Alison Galea, their lead singer now lives in Paris. The French pop influence is inevitable but it has not entirely pervaded their recent release. There are instances of languideness, but then, the influence has been more in the rather subtle songs that cropped up on Not In A Million Lovers. Their performance, even though acoustic, was rather static and in this regard, Beangrowers are more comfortable in interpreting and delivering songs, rather than try and project their well and truly experimental styles with some live innovations.

Vanessa Contenay-Quinones, likewise, did not attempt any bold live moves. However, she truly did express past, present and perhaps even future French pop styles. She immediately started off with the excellent Bagatelle, arguably the best song from her Ballade d’O album. Vanessa, of French and South American origin, is known for her sultry, enticing, perhaps sexy French songs. Her live performance, though, again rather static, really fitted the bill. Her she was, simply but elegantly dressed, singing great latter day French pop, and at the same time, creating a big latter-day French sound. Fille Fragiles, Something Is Calling, Am I Dreaming and Brouhaha, were also very well done, and all this in a very sparse, yet rich acoustic setting, with both Nick Hornby and Vanessa playing guitars. The show’s highlight however was Vanessa’s rendition of the classic Velvet Underground and Nico song, Sunday Morning. The song, which originally appeared on the band’s debut album back in 1967, was a chilling, poignant, moody bittersweet song that evoked the antithesis of the drug-crazed psychedelic scene. It reflected the downside of drugs, rather than the initial euphoria caused by tripping on LSD. Well, The Velvets then focused more on heroin rather than on LSD. Vanessa, Nick and the rest of The Beangrowers paid tribute to this classic song in an extemporised, 15 minute long version, again delivered with sheer acoustic panache, and still quite loyal to the original version which was just three minutes long.

Here is a case where these artistes really showed what they are made of. I was also quite surprised with Vanessa’s dee-jaying stint, which followed the acoustic performance. Her choice of songs, from versions of obscure cover songs, like The Chocolate Watch Band’s In The Past, performed by Delphinium, a sixties French band, to another French 60s rock star, Chris Bird, who sounded quite like The Yardbirds, made me realise why this 33 year old lady can pack so many things in one performance,and one hell of a great album too!

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