I never take the ariel view at gigs unless I’ve been seated there and have no choice. My simple desire is to wander to the barrier at the front to get as near as I can to the artist I admire enough to have paid my hard-earned cash to see. Chalk it up to ignorance or the fact I’ve only been to this venue once before, but it turns out there’s a whole different level, not just to the Picturehouse, but to seeing bands themselves. My friend led me up through the congested venue as Yeasayer took the stage.
Admittedly I never actually got around to listening to All Hour Cymbals but as they took the stage, their presence was a pleasant surprise, not because of the promising hype I had heard regarding the Brooklyn band, but because of their set-up, which mirrored the packed crowd’s presence in being full with speakers, keyboards, drum sets and other electronic musical instruments. Their sound came across as cheerful, often shifting, but never too drastically. They kept regular and loud beats as echoing guitars and electronics – at times recalling Animal Collective – were bundled into the mix. One band member was even sporting a full camouflaged army suit, which from a distance looked like a pair of funky 80s pyjamas. The band seemed enthusiastic but not necessarily in a childish way, but rather in a satisfied and contented way. They deserve to sound as confident as they do because they’ve got a funky and enjoyable mix here that almost makes me feel guilty for not investigating earlier.
There’s a tantalizing anticipation for a Bat for Lashes show. Natasha Khan has always had a certain theatrical element to her music and the cover art for her glorious second album Two Suns only leads one to expect a somewhat glittery live show. However the performance itself is showy, but in a more subtle manner. As she opens with the thunderous “Glass”, lightening cracks on the screens placed around the stage against a desolate desert scene, lights trickle and highlight those in focus, which isn’t always Khan herself. Much appreciation has to be (and duly is) paid to her band of multi-instrumentalists who move from keyboards to guitars to ringing bells or adding more percussion to the likes of “Two Planets”.
The sparser, but perhaps catchier material from her debut album Fur And Gold sounds better amidst the songs of Two Suns. “What’s A Girl To Do?” was transformed creature compared to the studio version, while the choruses for “Trophy” and “The Wizard” sounded almost more impacting than when hearing them on record. In reality the majority of people that filled the Picturehouse were there to be taken in by the newer material and this was most evident when “Daniel” began, not building but instead going straight into synths that provoked parts of the crowd to dance. The embracing build of “Siren Song” had the crowd entranced as the strings went into a chaotic flourish and the drums rumbled to a climax as Khan sat playing furiously and passionately at the piano.
The biggest surprise and the personal highlight of the evening came from the encore. A TV screen was rolled to the centre of the stage and Khan took place beside it. Her alter ego from the second album; Pearl, flickered on and I said to myself as the first ripple of notes resonated, “Holy shit, they’re playing “The Big Sleep!” I never expected it to make an appearance due to the absence of Scott Walker’s vocal contribution which has a sombre detuning effect on the album’s inner fury. But really, who else is more suited to replace Walker than Khan herself? The end result is captivating and brings another perspective to the song and makes one wonder how much of a real demon Pearl was to control. The song melted into “Wilderness” followed by the night’s conclusion of an energetic take on “Prescilla,” the crowd all the while tried to keep up with its snappy clapping rhythm, the majority eventually gave up and let the band do the work. After all, these songs speak for themselves, even when it’s done through a fictional character and TV screen.