It was the final night of London Grammar’s UK tour, and the second of their two headline shows at Alexandra Palace. The fact that they were playing such a prestigious venue whilst promoting an album that signalled a rebirth of sorts for their song-writing-skills, evoked a feeling of poignancy in Caradoc Gayer, as he approached the busy entrance hall to review the show for The Mic.
The otherworldliness of the nocturnal London skyline that greets you from the entrance of Ally Pally, and the vastness of the huge concert hall, seemed suitable for a band who excel at creating unrivalled atmosphere in their expansive musical style. Certainly, from the start of the gig, Hannah, Dot and Dan drew us into another world with the moody trip-hop anthem California Soil, in which ghostly looming shapes and floral imagery comprised hypnotic visuals. It felt like we were in some kind of ambient-pop fairyland. At certain points, the visuals are toned down, like during one of band’s earlier hits, Hey Now. Here they are backed by nothing more than a curtain, and our full attention is drawn to the staggering sonic power of their vocalist.
Some might consider it a cliché at this point to heap praise upon Hannah Reid’s characteristic vocals; the comparisons to Florence Welch and Kate Bush have come in abundance. However, her singing is all the more impressive when you hear it in person. Her haunting vocal stylings carry the band’s performance of the majority of their recent third album, California Soil. Hannah’s energetic high notes in the R&B tinged How Does it Feel, emphasise the cathartic tone of the breakup-track, whilst her chilling, head-voice-yells towards the end of the piano-led track Talking, coincide with Dan Rothman’s fuzzy guitar arpeggios, in one of the most goosebump inducing moments of the show.
During tracks like Talking, Big Picture, and America, the band play closer together, sharing piano stools or sitting at the front of the stage, as if we are gaining an insight into a private rehearsal. These are lovely moments of intimacy, in a headline show staged on a vast scale. Suitably, Hannah is never perturbed at the crowd’s impressive size; she addresses us like good mates, saying ‘'If anyone’s ever screwed you over, then this one’s for you,'' before they play the cosmic, Jon-Hopkins-produced, Big Picture.
''For the band, the show symbolises how each of them have matured, and have become more self-assured in their musical identity''
These moments of familiarity remind us of how California Soil has signalled the band, particularly Hannah, taking full creative control of their destiny, and putting their own needs to the forefront. When guitarist Dan addresses the crowd ‘'I grew up just down the road. All my family are in the crowd…'' the poignancy of this show becomes clear. For the band, the show symbolises how each of them have matured, and have become more self-assured in their musical identity.
Certainly, throughout the show, it’s hard to overlook how the two instrumentalists, Dan and Dot, showcase their talent, and propel Hannah’s, now more confident, feminist-tinged lyrics to stratospheric levels. If there was any problem with Californian Soil, then it would have been the instrumentals, that seemed to fall short in their relative sparsity, against the sprawling, dreamy textures of 2017’s Truth is a Beautiful Thing. However, when performed live, the dance music influences of Californian Soil come to the forefront: the blazing synth chords of Lord it’s a Feeling rock your very soul.
At the end of I Need the Night all three band members jump on the synths and proceed with a fierce-electro-tinged-jam. Soon afterwards, cheers surge through the crowd when everyone recognises the bittersweet synth melody of recent hit Baby It’s You. Sometimes, it’s the drumming talents of Dot Major that come to the forefront. When he hops over from the keyboards to the kit, his Massive-Attack-like drumming style turns tracks like Bones of Ribbon and Metal and Dust into hugely cinematic experiences. However, the jewel in the set’s crown is the final song, when the band finish their encore with an extended outro to Lose your Head, which is turned into a kaleidoscopic rave performance that finishes the night with the bang of all bangs. Who knew that a London Grammar show could be so energetic?
When I exited the venue into the cold November night, I felt charged with the energy that the band had brought to their final night in London. For a such softly spoken trio, known for their toned-down style, they had put on a dazzling show of epic proportions. It’s a strange feeling to be back in Nottingham, where those three captivating performers met, but a positive one. That feeling will, I’m sure, draw me to see them again as soon as possible, and bask in that euphoria that the band have been exuding throughout this album cycle.
Written by: Caradoc Gayer
Edited by: Amrit Virdi