Wednesday, 11 September 2013

GIG REVIEW: London Grammar @ Rough Trade East, London, 10-09-13

As one year ends and another begins, after all the End-Of-Year lists have circulated and the big breakthrough acts of the year before have been noted and shelved, impatient music fans such as myself are already looking for that big band, artist or track that's going to define the year that follows. As 2013 dawned, all of 7 days passed before a band called London Grammar had a song going viral so quickly it made our heads spin. It was a sparse and beautiful song that took the internet's breath away, and the song was called "Hey Now".

Cut forward 9 months, universal acclaim and a handful of EPs, and this very band have already created a simple but gorgeous debut album. My friend accompanying me to this exclusive and very small Rough Trade mini-gig commented just how quickly the record had come around. But, in a world where hype for a record raises expectations to the point where a band is destined to disappoint no matter what, The Grammars have the right idea.

Because the fame and success has clearly had no chance to hit them - and judging by the performance tonight, thank god. The band shuffle on stage unfashionably on time just after 7pm, with shy, modest looks on their faces, and they converse with the crowd as if they would converse with guests at a friend's wedding. It's the self-deprecating comments and awkward personal admissions of singer Hannah Reid that make the siren calls when she opens her mouth all the more enchanting.

The band as a whole are humble and largely still onstage as they make their way through a half hour set of their best known material, but because of what the three can do together, they still manage to exude extraordinary stage presence. Not even the crackly, bass-heavy speaker system of the record store can detract from the raw beauty of London Grammar's music.

The tracks take on a life of their own in a live environment, and benefit from being based around the simplest of arrangements. "Hey Now" becomes an extended free-space for the track's simple but haunting motifs, and "Darling..." and "Metal & Dust" triple in size, becoming bonafide indie rock anthems that wouldn't shame U2 on an arena stage. Dot skips from drums to keyboards to drum machines, and Dan's guitaring is loose and with feeling, as Hannah lets her truly phenomenal, deep voice soar through the tinny halls of Rough Trade.

The crowd is quiet but supportive and uncharacteristically warm for a London crowd. The applause is genuine, enthusiastic and unforced; there's a genuine feel of support and love for the band, rare for one so young. Before "Strong", probably "Hey Now"'s biggest contender for London Grammar's signature tune, Hannah sweetly requests the audience sings along, and jokingly lampoons them afterwards for not doing so. But what she doesn't realize is, that the audience was just too damn in awe to do anything to drown out what was coming from the band themselves.

It has been a real honour to be at such an important gig for the band, their first live gig post-debut release, and witnessing the first step towards a long and successful career. It's nearly always a risky move to predict big things from a band in the long term, but judging on this performance tonight paired with a belter debut, it's a bet I'd be willing to make. What was most exciting about this evening is that this feels like the mere beginning - in 9 months and one album, we've only seen a hint of what this glorious trio can create together.

As great as If You Wait is, it's albums number 3 and 4 I'm most looking forward to.

Hey Now
Darling, Are You Gonna Leave Me?
Wasting My Young Years
Metal & Dust

- Joe Copplestone, 11/09/13 (Photograph by Joao Vasconcelos)

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