The eclectic psuedo-pop outfit HMLTD dazzled with their live show once again, despite being plagued with technical hitches.
HMLTD are a fearsome live proposition. They showcase exactly what happens when you throw genre to the wind, and instead devote all your energy to ruffling as many feathers as possible – all while having an absolute ball. Henry Spychalski and co. make what is essentially pop, but only by the very loosest of definitions. Indeed, it makes you sit up and wonder precisely when our pop music got so staid.
They draw many a comparison to the 80s, but I think that’s more to do with their unbridled willingness to push boundaries – a mindset more than anything – than any kind of style affiliation. Pretty much every identity under the sun is represented tonight, either on or off the stage; HMLTD are a band that draw a very diverse crowd indeed. I think it comes down to the fact that when the people on stage sport dyed facial hair, silver jumpsuits and are telling you to “take a leaf out of my book, I am the captain of my ship”, you tend to feel a little safer to express yourself.
Fresh off the back of releasing their long-awaited debut album West Of Eden to much critical acclaim, HMLTD were on sparkling form, despite being plagued by technical difficulties. Regardless, Spychalski (a stage name that never ceases to be fun to say, slightly less fun to write) continued with amplomb, never once dropping his demented, musical theatre-made-emo delivery. His stage presence is a microcosm of all the things that make HMLTD so interesting. Feminine yet forceful, terrifying and titillating in equal measure, I’m not sure I’ve seen someone make such a small room feel so vital in a long while. Nick Cave was once quoted as saying that every night he chooses one person in the crowd to scare witless, and Spychalski appears to have one-upped him here by choosing to terrify us all. When his microphone repeatedly fails, he never once approaches crowd interaction with anything other than camp abandon, the mask never slipping.
'Henry Spychalski and co. make what is essentially pop, but only by the very loosest of definitions. Indeed, it makes you sit up and wonder precisely when our pop music got so staid'.
The set was suitably bombastic, with old favourites Music! and To The Door reliable as ever at whipping the crowd into a frenzy. During opener LOADED there was little movement, but by the time we reached the crescendo of the set, Stained, there wasn’t a static body in the house. However, to my mind the real strength of HMLTD lies not in their ability to lead a crowd into battle; rather, it’s in their ability to lead them in chorus. Satan, Luella and I is, quite frankly, jaw-droppingly beautiful. When so much of their music focuses on bleak assessment of, in their own words, the death of the West, it’s frankly remarkable to then be presented with a creation of such beauty. Sure, all the usual HMLTD staples of both ‘filth’ and ‘art’ are here, but the rousing chorus of ‘Luella, babe, won’t you marry me now?’ being sung by more than a hundred people is quite the spectacle indeed.
Elsewhere, slightly more mainstream pop delights abound, particularly in Mikey’s Song and Blank Slate – two highlights from West Of Eden, the former a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on Radio 2 were it not for the dark spin HMLTD put on it, the latter a rallying cry for unity in these dark times.
'Feminine yet forceful, terrifying and titillating in equal measure, I’m not sure I’ve seen someone make such a small room feel so vital in a long while'.
The rest of the band, lest they be forgotten, are simply fantastically competent at what they do. This is a complex and varied set, touching everything from trap to dubstep, and they handle each new surprise with cool composure. Small technical difficulties on newer material aside (149 was abandoned after a few attempts, with Spychalski declaring ‘that’s my least favourite one off the new album anyway’), they never falter for even a second. This is absolutely essential to the set, as it allows Spychalski to conduct the crowd to his every whim with little or no resistance. Special credit must also be given to the lighting, courtesy of Louis Farmer, who is quite frankly a wizard with a strobe light – many of the drops here wouldn’t hit nearly as hard were it not for his additions.
HMLTD are pop for the strange, strange times of 2020, and both shock and delight in equal measure. Put simply: you need to see them live, and as soon as possible.