To promote the release of her latest album 'Designer', Aldous Harding has undertaken an extensive European tour. On Wednesday night Harding played to a sold-out Concorde 2 in Brighton with fellow female antipodean Laura Jean filling the support slot. In the Victorian splendour of the former bikers' café, Harding gave an unforgettable performance that not only highlighted the brilliance of her latest release but also the quite breathtaking individuality in her delivery.
The style and tone of the night was markedly different from one act to the next. Laura Jean, dressed in what looked like a printed satin pyjama suit, scarf and kitten heels, was decidedly more playful and mischievous than Aldous was. She experimented with her first foray into House Music; "do you like the harpsichord breakdown?" she quipped, "this is medieval house"; and then went on to sing songs drawn from her album release of last year. Bathed in a blue light, Laura sang 'Touchstone' beautifully, followed by the title track from the album 'Devotion'. A haunting 'Northerly' followed before she closed out the set with her best-known track (about her sister), 'Girls On TV'. Laura Jean finished her solo performance at her bargain ($100) keyboard by saying, "You've been a great audience, no really, we've had some funny shows, this is where we turn it around."
The four-piece band that accompanied Aldous Harding were next onto the Brighton stage just before Harding herself entered stage left to take up her position. Perched atop a sturdy barstool, a mere stone's throw from the East Sussex shoreline, Harding looked out into the packed room before she and her band began their set with the title track from Harding's third album 'Designer'. The more upbeat, by comparison to a large proportion of the remainder of the album, track ensured a smooth transition between support and headliner. The opening number was quite special with Harding's vocal delivery being particularly arresting.
Harding's choice of setlist was a bold move in itself but having heard her latest album, and now having seen her perform live for the first time, I think I'd be right in assuming she is not one to compromise. The evening was, almost in its entirety, a performance of Harding's latest work. If you'd come along expecting a smattering of tracks from her back catalogue you may have been disappointed but otherwise there was no reason, aside from a few noisy idiots, to find anything at fault on the night.
'Zoo Eyes' and then 'Treasure' followed the opening number. Aldous was mesmeric, holding the audience captivated throughout. Her intensity barely wavered at all, she was so clearly immersed in her performance it made for great theatre in itself. Not since watching Anna Calvi last year have I seen an artist so intently focused, both women possessing a steely-eyed determination that pervaded each of their performances. Harding, according to one audience member, "channelling her inner 60s Jane Fonda" in her black nurse's shoes, white draw-string trousers and grey top barely spoke to the audience choosing instead to pause between each of the tracks to let the audience settle and come back to her. She didn't so much as demand their attention as surreptitiously command it.
Aldous Harding's performance of 'The Barrel' was next and it was nothing short of spectacular. Guitar in hand, Aldous plucked the first notes as the keyboard player joined before Harding started to sing out the quite stunning track. The compositions and arrangements on 'Designer' are superb and they are all the more amazing when heard live. The seemingly simplistic has been given a new benchmark with this album and Aldous has found a thread of creativity and artistry that is beyond compare. The individuality born out in each of these songs is quite amazing. To have the where-with-all to make the record you know you want without giving any quarter has meant that Harding has produced the best album of her life and surely the best album of the year so far. Her performance of 'Pilot', sat at the keyboard under a single spotlight, was another highlight of the evening.
Harding showcased the quality of her April album release with masterful performances of the achingly melancholic 'Damn', the regretful 'Weight Of The Planets' and a truly astonishing 'Heaven Is Empty'. Harding's high vocal was note perfect all night and the sound mix spot on with just the right balance given to each of the accompanying instruments. Harding's only unsung words were a few thank yous and a band introduction before she closed out her set with a two track encore that featured a new song, 'Old Peel', where Aldous made percussive use of a coffee mug in her most animated performance of the evening.
'Designer' is a musthave album and Aldous Harding live is a must see show. Her performance is at times quite astonishing; she has such stage presence and gives a truly mesmeric and wholly captivating performance. Aldous Harding has hit a perfect storm with her poetic lyrics, ground-breaking compositions, daring arrangements and beautiful vocals. A definite essential on this year's gig list.
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