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ALDOUS HARDING @ Chevron Lighthouse gets 7/10


Aldous Harding @ Chevron Lighthouse

Friday, February 28, 2020

7/10

There’s nobody quite like Aldous Harding in music today. The arrestingly quirky singer-songwriter looks like a playful druid who has freshly time-warped from the distant past, and her music backs this up. Harding plays her own inimitable strain of English folk-rock, like Nick Drake or Fairport Convention twisted through a fisheye lens. She turned in an entrancing performance to one of the biggest Chevron Lighthouse crowds this year, even if her idiosyncrasies occasionally worked against her.

Aldous Harding

It was a Spartan opening to the set with just Aldous and her guitar for Living the Classics. Her voice is beautiful on record but it had even more character on stage. It was a tad raspier and earthier, with a more pronounced child-like lilt that added a dash of colour to familiar tracks. The arpeggiated guitar chords that carried the opening tune, with their intentionally strangled and buzzing notes, were a great example of her unique fingerstyle.

Harding then took a stand as the whole band made its entrance. She treated the crowd to Designer, the title track from last year’s breakout LP. Not only was the tune carried off excellently, but it also gave the crowd a taster of Harding’s unique, marionette-like dance moves. Gaining popularity through her music videos, Harding’s looping hand gestures and gyrations are a minor meme in and of themselves and it was great to see them live.

Unfortunately, Harding did not draw from that well as often as she could have, in a night that was a bit lacking in crowd engagement. “This is the part of the set where I really come alive,” she joked toward the end of the set. “You can tell because nothing changes.” It was one of only two short comments the entire night, and it was sadly true as Harding was largely seated throughout the night and did little to involve the crowd short of accepting their applause. There were moments of crowd restlessness between tracks as the band took time to reset, but with no dialogue to fill space. Her wordless exit was unceremonious also, the crowd left a bit wanting. The stoic approach may be part of her allure, but here’s hoping that Harding is more playful next time.

Aldous Harding

While the music was playing, however, there were no complaints. The band was a pleasure to hear throughout. Despite there being four of them, their sound was so understated that it often felt like just Harding and her guitar on stage. Yet their contribution was deeply felt, particularly Mali Llewelyn on keys and Mellotron. Her weird and wonderful ambient horn noises shrouded these songs in a cloak of pastoral mystery. Damn was a group highlight as keys, guitar and horn interlocked for the song’s finale over Harding’s ostinato piano figure.

In terms of songs, the set leaned heavily on Designer, featuring a six-strong stretch. Following the aforementioned title track, Fixture Picture was more joyous and ultimately superior to its studio counterpart. Aldous took a seat for Treasure, in an effective rendition of this beautiful ballad. Zoo Eyes was a slower, sleepier version than the original. It featured some great group harmonies, with deeper male backing vocals making the ascending chorus feel quadrophonic. The Barrel was as well received as expected, albeit strangely missing Harding’s “Barrel” refrain. Damn closed this initial run with Harding taking a seat on keys. Weight of the Planets came later in the set, a personal favourite which had some great guitar/piano interplay and cool violin-imitating stabs from the Mellotron.

Aldous Harding

The set closed with some welcome older material. 2017 single Elation was powerful, featuring a belting, full-bodied folk vocal at the end that showcased Harding’s range. This was followed by a heavy version of Blend, the most rhythmic song of the set courtesy of a bass riff tenfold more powerful than the studio original. After an encore, the set closed with new, as yet unreleased track Old Peel. If this is a harbinger of what’s to come from Harding then sign me up – this was a brilliant rock track with a cutting guitar riff and the catchiest vocal of the night.

The closing numbers showcased more sonic range and it was a shame more older material wasn’t featured. There were no tracks from Harding’s first album, and the omission of fan favourites Imagining My Man, Horizon and Party was questionable. The lack of the epic Horizon was particularly glaring, given how well Harding translated the emotional highs of Elation live.

Aldous Harding

Overall this was a wanting set in conception, but a great one in execution. The track selection could have been better (or simply longer) and Harding could have given the crowd a bit more between songs. But the performances themselves are what matters most, and while Harding was up there doing her thing, all was forgiven.

MATIJA ZIVKOVIC

Photos by NuShade

 

 

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