I've been to two concerts in the last couple of weeks, and it struck me as I stepped out of Brixton Academy on Saturday night that they were actually quite comparable. For starters, both featured blonde leading ladies with a bold, almost aggressively singular sense of style. The music was largely electronic and decidedly avant garde, but with a strong sense of p-o-p. And in both performances, at least one person wore faux-antlers. Yes, it's as clear as day to me now: venison-chic is in. You read it here last.
The first was Goldfrapp. Embracing all things pastoral, English and yet also clown-related, the band did a left (or is that U)-turn on their last album and made this rather lovely, quiet, jangly record. Initially I wasn't sure what to make of it, but I seem to listen to it again and again, and in fact the lead single, A&E, might be my favourite song of this year. Prior to the more recent material, I quite liked the glam-rock stuff they were doing, but wasn't passionate about it. Marc Bolan never spoke to me on any level and I have a real genuine antipathy towards what I can only describe as sweaty, angrogynous, have-some-grease-tea-with-me, cold-Sunday morning British music of the 1970s. So I was quite excited to see Goldfrapp re-invented, dying to hear A&E and curious to see how their new music gelled with the old in live performance. Very well, it turned out, rather unexpectedly.
At a live show, I always look around and try and work out who's who. Why are they there and what do they want to hear. It must be said that since Marc Bolan died, few have gone down his glittery road musically, so I suspect the guys near me with their single painted eye and uncomfortable-looking glittery lurex outerwear weren't here to scream wildly for Cologne Cerrone Houdini. They were waiting for Ooh la la, Number 1 and Ride a white horse. And they became hysterical when they finally got their moment (though surprisingly not that last one, which I thought was a bit of a shame, really).
She looked great. The glittery clown number was perfect and I was amused to note the two dancers performing with her had been given rather more low-cut outfits than Alison dared sport. For them it was bikini-bottoms and hand-stands. AG demurred to show us her undercarriage, for shame. In fact, the overall staging was great. Gigantic bunting, everyone in white apart from Alison, the backing singers in their stag headgear, the eight-piece orchestra barefoot. That was beautifully done. The dancers inter-changed costumes, changed Maypole for go-go-pole, energised the crowd, showed some sass. The tension of what kit they would be coming on next in - head to toe in dancing rags, even! - was fantastic
And the voice! The voice! Immaculate. Clear, high, pure and faultless every time. And I loved the song I came to hear, in fact everything that was performed from Seventh Tree.
If only I had felt the slightest shimmer of charm or pleasantness from the woman. A genuine undoubted musical innovator and well of artistry and inspiration, she left me utterly cold. Her bell-like voice glanced off the grubby walls of the Academy but when it came time to find out how the audience were doing, or -perish the thought!- thank the crowd, it was as though she smoked forty Lambert & Butler a day and was speaking through a, er, felt mountain. craaannnnn-roooo, she seemed to say. Those were her only words. The audience were inversely wild to shower her and the band with unceasing gratitude and admiration. Alison seemed disinterested to show it back.
I'm afraid I look for a modicum of charm and eloquence from the artists I support. For someone with so much to say, I was unsure how to take the show: be wowed by her faultless musicality, or left cold by her mute indifference?
Photos by Gorgeous Rob (who's small digicam is much better than mine these days) with many thanks.