Wow, it’s a long way from Hollywood Cinema in Avondale where Aldous Harding captivated me in a small audience a couple of years ago on her Party release tour. Two nights at the Powerstation, with Sunday night close to sold out, a testament to how far into Auckland’s psyche she has penetrated since the release of her third album Designer. A testament to her global pulling power. My two mates are here on my promise. I’ve said nothing about her performance.
Ben Woods opens but fails to connect. Looking a little like Paul Weller, he is all fuzzy distortion and gothic lyrics. An effort to be ethereal, echoey, shimmery. The audience continues to chatter. He seems like a nice young man. At the end, there is a touch of Cave. That’s a better foil to what I hope is to come.
And here she is... well almost... the audience hush obediently... and wait... and on she comes, treading gingerly in her muddy orange suit, 1920’s hat perched tightly on her made-up face. Looks like a mannequin dressed up for a day out of the asylum. Sanity is definitely a sub-theme. Manic stare, cultivated silence, taking us all in… What have we here? Why am I here? Who let me out? Someone did.
Perched on her stool, one leg on a footstool, guitar tucked by the other, and The World Is Looking At You (“there is no end to the madness I feel”). Brief flashes of intensity, a leg jerk, not quite a convulsion. Eyes peeled back and up. Only the whites. Don’t shoot!!
I’m So Sorry, another song from Party. (“my body grateful, I never knew how to write”), but you do, you do, you do. Slightly hunched, painted smile, stern look, watch her every move. “Aldous, you’re one freaky fuckin’ bitch” shouts out a female voice. Admiringly, I’m sure. Silence... stare... “Aldous, I think you’re choice” responds a male voice. Tension break. Slight smile. Thank you, I like “choice” better.
The band file on, take up their instruments, keyboard player dressed in the white she used to wear. Long silence. Wait for the moment, it has to be just right.
And of course, it is, as we launch into Designer, and the John Parish (PJ Harvey) sound livens us up, but just a tad, don’t for a moment get happy, it’s not a happy show. But it does have a rhythm, a beat, a poppier sound which marks the progression which the album displays. Huge applause (for every song).
Fixture Picture, the album opener, with drummer Gwion on backing vocals. Sparse interventions of melody. “What am I doing in Dubai?”. Probably changing planes. “Do you love me?” Yes, someone replies. Mesmerised love, spellbound love. Finally, with Treasure, after many apparent efforts to say something, she talks, this song taking her back further than she cares to admit.
The briefest of thank yous to the audience, and the stare... Where I am standing, right in my usual position upstairs above the sound desk, it’s hard to see the double act unless you know what to look for. Too far away. Better to be close up to see the mime, the mask, the chimera which is Aldous’ face. Her face is an act all by itself. Carefully choreographed, as is the voice, moving from forceful to plaintive, as are the movements, nothing casual, everything deliberate. It’s a whole of body performance. Marcel Marceau meets Joanna Newsome.
No, don’t compare, don’t depreciate the star quality, the originality of what we are seeing. It won’t be long before she is the standard to which we compare.
“Put the lights on the audience please”. Now we know how it feels. “It’s your show now. How do you like it?” Torture.
The Barrel is next, and then she goes to the piano for a duet with Mali before Damn gets an up-tempo finish with the rest of the band.
Mali Llyweleyn on keys, Gwion Llewelyn on drums and what I think is baritone sax, Harry Stevenson on bass, and H Hawkline, aka Huw Evans on guitars. John Parish sound, sparse interventions, immaculate timings, perfection a minimum. Aldous has gone a little Welsh.
Now we are in for a treat, as Aldous makes Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down The Line, her very own song.
Elation, only released as a single, but recorded during the Party sessions, has her standing alone, fiddling with a hair accessory she used to call “the whim”, but something else tonight. Is it a worm?
The band strike up again for Blend, and it’s over.
Apart from the encores, a soulfully tragic discovery that Heaven Is Empty and a new one, Old Peel.
False start. Tension. Apologies. It’s not a game. Huw intervenes with a little guitar flourish, and they re-start. All ends well. Funky. Great song. My mates are in awe. She really is scary...
Another step on the Aldous Harding road to global acclaim.
Makes us proud.
Thanks to James on sound and Luminaire (I think) for lighting. Both clear and tasteful.
Aldous Harding's setlist in Auckland
- The World Is Looking for You
- I’m So Sorry
- Fixture Picture
- Zoo Eyes
- The Barrel
- Right Down The Line (Gerry Rafferty cover)
- Heaven Is Empty
- Old Peel