Ana Popovic

Saturday 11th May 2019

The Borderline, London

Despite walking past the Borderline innumerable times over the years, normally en-route to the Hercules, just around the corner, I hadn’t been inside since the early 1990’s when I caught one of the last performances by Albert Collins there. It was a pleasure to be back in the intimate venue, although in the light of the sad news of the venue’s closure this August, it doesn’t look like the experience will be repeated.  It was a good job therefore that the performance by the engaging Serbian born guitarist was a memorable one. It was the first time I’d seen her live and didn’t know what to expect; her striking promotional photos and album covers indicated that the lady was not afraid to display a confident, alluring image, and as she strode out on the low stage after her red hot band had cooked up a snappy groove on opening number ‘Ana’s Blues’, it was clear that she must spend as much time down the gym as she does practising scales. 
 
Sporting 5-inch heels and a slit skirt with a flat as an ironing board bare midriff, her long blonde hair falling around her shoulders, the guitarist presented a powerful visual image, which was backed up by equally impressive musical chops. She certainly knew her way around the fretboard of her various Stratocasters, playing fluid and lightning fast runs. While her influences may have originated in the Blues, almost none of the songs she played had a standard Blues chord structure.  ‘Can You Stand the Heat’, the title track of her 2013 album, and ‘Object of Obsession’, set the scene for the rest of the evening - funky beats and a busy bassline with the two-man horn section bang on the money with their brass stabs and tight riffs, over which Ana played some flowing, extended lead lines.
 
Six tracks in a row followed from 2016’s ambitious triple concept album ‘Trilogy’, providing a Jazzy feel to proceedings, especially on ‘Train’ and ‘New Coat of Paint’, allowing her strong voice to shine through over the smooth backing. The energy level was high throughout the evening but after the sophistication of the ‘Trilogy’ songs the temperature went up another notch with ‘How’d You Learn to Shake It Like That’ and some sizzling slide work from the star of the show.  ‘Like it On Top’, from the 2018 album of that name, was introduced with a spiel about female empowerment, which got a good response from the mainly male audience.
 
During the performance her band followed her moves like hawks with drill sharp synchronised precision; the horns were hot, the keys sympathetic, the drummer energetic and the bass player was busy without getting in the way, even providing a slap bass solo late in the evening that achieved the near impossible, an enjoyable bass solo that didn’t create a sinking feeling (and a desire for noise cancelling headphones).  Before you knew it, the enjoyable evening was closing with an encore medley that finished with the horn section introducing the distinctive hook from ‘Crosstown Traffic’ (which has been chosen as an encore song by three separate acts I’ve seen this year!) and a rousing rendition.  She may not get the chance to play the Borderline again but let’s hope this captivating performer returns to another venue in the capital in the near future. 
 
Simon Green

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