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Intricate, intimate, raw: London Grammar at Birmingham Town Hall

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Four years is a long time to wait for a follow-up album, but fans of London Grammar were given plenty of warning; it was all there in the prophetic title of their double platinum debut release, 2013’s If You Wait. As promised, if we did wait then it was just a matter of time until we saw the group again. Now, after announcing a June release date for their second album, Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, the waiting is finally, almost, over.

Alongside a date and title for their sophomore release, the melancholic dream-pop trio announced a short run of three shows in decidedly intimate venues. Bookended by performances in two converted churches in Glasgow and London, they took to the stage of Birmingham’s Town Hall for an evening of indietronic minimalism and raw, unguarded emotion.

It is one of the true hallmarks of a successful return when a band’s new material is received as warmly as their established hits.

As the house lights fall and keyboard/percussionist Dot Major and guitarist Dan Rothman enter, the atmosphere is expectant and electric. They tune their instruments in a brief opening reverie, then fall silent as vocalist Hannah Reid emerges from the gloom and begins the new album’s lead single, ‘Rooting For You’, without accompaniment. It is a haunting and fittingly understated entrance to only their second live show since the end of a gruelling world tour in 2014, and the track is one which allows the group to display the principal weapon in their arsenal from the outset: Reid’s voice. She drifts from rich and sonorous tones to soaring, ethereal heights with a composure that belies the fact that she suffers from stage fright when she performs. The lyrics, discussing the vulnerability and fear of lowering one’s defences for a chance at love, seem like a fitting metaphor for a vocalist who battles the anxiety of exposure in offering plaintive emotional honesty to her audience alongside the transcendent joy of experiencing her music.

From the opener, they move into their sweeping cover of Kavinsky’s synthwave hit ‘Nightcall’, complete with muted vocal harmonies from both Major and Rothman. Big Picture, the second single from the upcoming album highlights the trio’s ability to craft delicate and sumptuously-layered arrangements that swell from sparsity and restraint into stirring symphonic crescendos. Flickers ups the tempo with Major’s percussion leading the way, and he transitions seamlessly from bongo to beat pads for a specially overlaid outro, a stripped-back version of Disclosure collaboration ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’.

It is a haunting and fittingly understated entrance to only their second live show since the end of a gruelling world tour in 2014, and the track is one which allows the group to display the principal weapon in their arsenal from the outset: Reid’s voice.

Communication with the audience is typically limited at a London Grammar gig – the band are as quietly reserved as their minimalist music might suggest. When it does come, it is often to express a gratitude for the support of those in attendance, which seems genuinely warm and sincere, as if they can’t quite believe the support they have received in the years since they uploaded their first track to YouTube in late 2012. Another nice moment of interaction comes as Reid introduces us to a new song: “We wanted to try and be a little more optimistic on this record. Yeah, this one’s called ‘Hell To The Liars’.” What starts as a floating piano ballad is soon charged with a driving guitar rhythm and a thumping breakbeat, and the song burns with a fiery energy as the stage glows a deep red. There’s also a quip from the singer when she announces that she “hates standing up at gigs”, before promptly taking a seat at the piano for the aptly-named Interlude, a song which describes the lull of a distant, perhaps even imagined, love that one can only dream of.

Image: Ed Butterfield

Flanked by two of the band’s signature songs – the breakout hit ‘Hey Now’ and Ivor Novello-winning Strong – is a live debut of ‘Who Am I’, a rousing and ruminative narrative of self-doubt offset by a reverberating drum pattern. It is one of the true hallmarks of a successful return when a band’s new material is received as warmly as their established hits, and the reaction at the end of this particular song is indicative of a general buzz amongst the crowd that the forthcoming album is set to live up to the hype generated by the first. A two-song encore is fronted by the title track of the new record, ‘Truth Is A Beautiful Thing’, whose piano-led progression and ghostly strings are reminiscent of the title track from their debut effort. There’s a symmetry too with the show’s opener, ‘Rooting For You’, which will be the opening track of the new release; we’re able to trace the journey from a relationship where “truth left us long ago” to the recognition that the pursuit of an emotional truth is indeed a beautiful thing.

The evening finishes with a flourish, as the emphatic dance-infused rhythm of Metal and Dust cues a pulsating strobe-lighting display and lasers which fire out over the heads of the crowd. And once again, soaring above everything, comes one of the most spellbinding voices in pop music today. Birmingham’s Grade I listed concert hall was no doubt handpicked for the lavish quality of its acoustics, and the space perfectly accentuates the intricate, intimate and raw performance of a vocalist who demonstrates a true mastery of her craft and a band with an undeniably bright future ahead of them.

Truth Is A Beautiful Thing is out 9th June.

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Comments (1)

  • i so wish i could have seen them! good to read about them and hear that they were as talented as we know that they are, rly excited for their new cd now!!!!

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