The Summer series of gigs at London’s Somerset House on The Strand has become a major musical event each year. Two years back I saw the wonderful Noah and the Whale play here, and this year it was the turn of Goldfrapp.
I am a long time fan, ever since their debut many years ago. They are one of the few bands where I eagerly anticipate each new release and have (thus far) never been disappointed.
Somerset House is a rather lovely venue for an open air gig. A large, stone courtyard with the sunset beaming down on the audience, the light dropping behind the rear of the venue to time with the arrival of the Headline act. The sound is warm and reflections are unnoticeable; quite the feat for a square of concrete!
The band walk on stage to little fanfare and open their set with a harpsichord loop, reminding us from the start that this is no usual band set up. The moment she starts singing it is clear that Alison’s vocals are everything they are on record – warm, human, quirky, yet wonderfully on key and musical
“Clowns” retains its eeriness from the recorded version and soars in the coda. Alison’s stage presence is assured from the start. Never in any rush to jump from song to song, she retains control of her fans. It soon becomes clear that pre-recorded backing vocals are being used, however one can perhaps excuse such ‘cheating’, being as they are from an electronica background. Besides, her enigmatic vocal is perhaps too unique to be replaced by a session singer.
An early focus on the new, yet-to-be-released album is brave and at first a tad concerning. The third song enters on a rather predictable folk finger-picking start, but soon builds and layers to reference the gloriousness of their debut album “Felt Mountain”. Indeed, much of the new material suggests that the forthcoming LP may be a heady cross between their debut and the underrated album “Seventh Tree” – Folk meeting Electronic trippery.
The set has a row of lights sweeping diagonally across the back of the stage. At first these are unused and instead the screen behind shows an array of stark scenic photos, against which the lights gain an otherworldly quality in silhouette. Later, these beacons combine with lasers to coincide with quite the shift in tone…
The first half of the set is a Goldfrapp based on guitars, not synths. Songs that build and seep rather than slap us round the chops. But as the sun finally sets, the lights shine bright and the volume jumps. “Number One” is the catalyst here. Unleashed atop keytars and processed drums, Alison’s voice opens up even more. A heavy delay is turned on her vocal mic and her pitching prowess and tone are perfectly complimented by the audio trickery.
“Shiny and Warm” has us dancing to a squelchy bass riff soon after and the mood is set for the second half of the gig. By this point the crowd is ready to move.
The band leaves the limelight to Alison, but those of us in the know are left to admire their abilities on guitar, electric violin and a multitude of synths. Knowing smiles here and there shows us just how much they enjoy the stage work and not a note is missed.
A nod to Marc Bolan follows the ever-effervescent “Ooh La La”, so obvious a touchstone when you think of it yet it had never come to mind! Dual keytar soloing slams the retro chic home and the entire band are bouncing. Indeed, Alison herself seems to be more flowing and physical as the tracks pump more towards the end. The bassist alternates between upright and a clear plastic Fender Jazz style bass, beat perfect on both.
The encore sees “Little Bird” twitter, creep and then soar to an extended Acid Coda with floating Lasers and distorted synths galore. By the finale “Strict Machine” we are left in no doubt that Goldfrapp have many years of invention left ahead – looping, mashing and mangling the track while still delivering the hook lines the audience crave.