It's one thing to pay tribute to an influential period of music history, but quite another to give it a new life. During their First Avenue show on a snowy Tuesday, U.K. trio London Grammar connected the creative dots between their home country's seminal trip-hop scene of the early '90s and the current electro-pop sound.
Delving heavily into their 2013 debut, If You Wait, the soaring vocals of Hannah Reid, the pulsating electronic beats and live drums of Dominic "Dot" Major, and the churning guitar work of Dan Rothman built a 60-minute set that could very well be a template for whatever electronic music's next wave sounds like.[jump]
The set began with Major and Rothman crafting a muted, bluesy instrumental intro. Reid eventually took to the stage, bathed in a halo-like light and warmed up her vocals with some free-form experimentation before a graceful transition into "Hey Now," the remixed version of which is featured in Dior's J'adore advertising campaign with Charlize Theron.
Though Reid's refined, mezzo-soprano vocals are powerful enough to make perfume feel important, her wistful lyrics especially took flight live during the songs' choruses. Not quite as over-the-top as the typical histrionics of Florence + the Machine's Florence Welch, her impressive range never felt ostentatious. Like the best of Reid's trip-hop forebears, raw emotions were always threatening to take over, but she saved them for the right moments.
Instrumentally, the rhythmic, pulsating din generated by Major and Rothman echoed the beat-heavy bombast of James Blake and Chvrches. Eventually, Reid added live percussion, and took to the keys for a ruminative version of "Interlude" which also featured Major's first foray behind the spare drum kit at the side of the stage. By continuing the movement onstage -- Reid danced a bit too -- the group created a building momentum for the set.
"We've been fortunate to play in a lot of places now, and you guys are quite loud. I like it," Reid announced midway through the set. "And you're brave as nails, too. To be honest, looking at it outside, I might have just stayed at home. But I didn't have that option. I couldn't just stay in my hotel room, I had to come."
The smoldering If You Wait highlight "Wasting My Young Years" provided one of the set's most direct link back to the era of Portishead. Its tone was accentuated by the stage-set spotlights' ominous shadows over both the band and the crowd. A cover of Kavinsky's "Nightcall," popularized by the movie Drive, also explored the darkness within the group's sound.
Nods to the past came with glances at the future. London Grammar's dramatic evolution over the past two years was made apparent by the transition between the austere "Flickers" and the beat-laden bounce of Disclosure's "Help Me Lose My Mind" -- a song that featured the band -- which they buoyantly tacked on to the end of their early number.
The XX-like single "Strong" closed out the main set on a poignant high, complete with a drawn out coda to coax every last sentiment.
Following a brief break, the band returned to a stage that was bathed in smoke. Reid's long, blonde hair was done up in a playful ponytail, as if it were time to relax a bit now that the challenging part of her night was over. She promptly sat down at the keyboards and played an achingly beautiful solo version of "If You Wait."
"Touring America is such a wonderful experience for a British band," Rothman announced before the last track of the night. "It makes us fall in love with music all over again." The set then closed with pulsating stomp of "Metal & Dust," which found the band huddling around Major's drumkit as his rhythms took over the song.
Personal Bias: I was won over by London Grammar after seeing them play Later with Jools Holland. This show only solidified my growing affection for the band.
The Crowd: Nearly a full house on a snowy Tuesday night, with everyone excited to see this make-up performance from a canceled November show.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I could fall in love with anyone listening to this band."
A Note About the Opener: Cardiff's Until the Ribbon Breaks delivered a stirring opening set that showcased their burgeoning musical talents. Frontman Pete Lawrie-Winfield was engaging and dynamic, as the songs fused many different genres fluidly while sounding polished and evocative. Their untamed collaboration with Run the Jewels (who delivered their rhymes via a video screen) proved to be one of the highlights of the set.
Darling Are You Going To Leave Me
Wasting My Young Years
Flickers/Help Me Lose My Mind
Nightcall (Kavinsky cover)
If You Wait
Metal & Dust
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