Goldfrapp / Live in London / Somerset House
Read it on The GROUND Magazine
Goldfrapp’s caravan came into town, right into London’s Somerset House, the famous Neoclassical building and hub for art, fashion, and music. I can use the word caravan because when the caravan girl, aka Alison Goldfrapp, and her band come on stage, you immediately feel they’re vibrating with that raw energy and passion that only gypsies and true artists have when traveling the world and performing from town to town.
They were coming straight from the Manchester International Festival, a fine and avant-garde biennial arts festival where they gave us the worldwide live presentation of the whole new upcoming album “Tales Of Us”. It was a unique performance accompanied by The RNCM’s string orchestra but as for us Londoners, we only knew about Alison’s new look. From modern-erotica Marlene Dietrich, to glam, circus performer and 80′s disco, her new incarnation in Manchester showed a simple black floating look that she manages to pull off ambiguously and sensually. On the other hand, the music was a surprise just like opening a new book, and even though we were granted a preview of only four songs from their new work, Alison showed us how to combine intimate and down tempo performances with glam-electronic-disco, creating an everlasting and emotional atmosphere.
Her tales start with a spoken intro “Once upon a time there was a girl…” and on stage the lights behind the band, that lacked Alison’s partner-in-crimes Will Gregory, looked like trees. This is Goldfrapp’s twisted and enchanting forest, where nature, and human nature, inspires her reflections on the dynamics of our feelings from a privileged and unfiltered vista. She once said that music is a visual experience and as she opens with “Paper Bag”, from their masterpiece debut album “Felt Mountain”, Alison has a white light coming from behind to enhance the stillness of this ambient song that melts later on along the line “when you laugh, I’m inside your mouth”. Her whispered voice continues with the opening track of 2008 “Seventh Tree”, a song about clowns and balloons to symbolize the obsession with fake tits. “Clowns” display her storytelling skills, captivates the audience with its metaphorical words, and makes you want to let those balloons fly, renouncing our plastic reality. The mood is set on the opened courtyard of the Somerset House and Alison has everyone’s attention for the first new song that make up a sumptuous opening triptych. “Stranger”, just like an intruder in the middle of the cloudy London evening, opens with an acoustic guitar to become more and more cinematic. It’s the only track from “Tales Of Us” that is not named after a person, it sounds sinister, dangerous like a James Bond’s mission but ultimately intoxicating, “stranger when you look at me / you’ll be killing me gently”, she recites like a Serge Gainsbourg ‘s chanson.
After opposing no resistance to the stranger, more stories from these mysterious characters unfold. “Alvar” has an unsettling edgy guitar and is “inspired by a trip to Iceland” while “Clay” is about “two soldiers in WWII who fell in love…” Just when the new, decadent, and sophisticated material draw us into this new Goldfrapp’s chapter, we are taken off guard as if someone died too soon in a book we are reading. We know every great book has to take our breath away so the synths and strings of “You Never Know” cut the pace like a knife and we are back into 2005 “Supernature”. The forest on stage brightens up and we are in for some loud kicks with every word “I/love/you”. Alison sounds better than ever and when her soft soprano vocals take on electronic songs, her versatility as a recording artist is mesmerizing and honest. She does not just try out new musical genres to reinvent herself; she is a metamorphosis that shifts in image and style but always maintaining her essence untouched.
“Number 1″ is up next and the crowd, her “deers”, starts shaking and clapping along the synthesizer and bass arrangements that became a timeless and moving fan’s favorite anthem. Glorious is the word to describe it, visionary and yet it talks about love in such a physical way: “I’m like a dog to get you / you’re my Saturday”. Indeed it was a Saturday night and also the folkloristic “A&E” had a whole new meaning to its line “It’s a blue, bright blue Saturday”. Alison recently stated that their previous album “Head First” is not among her favorites, but still one track, “Shiny And Warm” was surprisingly performed like an inciting rhapsody that continued with the hits “Ride A White Horse” and “Oh La La”. The lights are blinding and Alison falls in a trance to her own music. Words like “dancing at the disco” sound extremely lustful pronounced with her British accent and the symbolic green lights for “Oh La La” are just enough to perform one of the most libidinous songs in music, “You’re just made for love”. Spellbinding.
The beats are pulsating, Alison’s moves shift from consumed rockstar, tough she is only drinking water on stage, to dramatic cabaret performer and her intimacy with the talented band is palpable. As the set comes to an end you are even more intrigued by her reserved personality because she does not need to say a lot to the audience. She is here to put on a show with her music leaving the rest to the fantastic lighting effects. This is just enough when everything you have to say has already substance in your art. “Caravan Girl” is a joyous pagan chant of pure freedom and liberation, Alison resonates with nature and after another “Cheers” she leaves the stage.
New, hypnotic leading single “Drew” already deserves to open the encore. The beautiful black and white video, directed by Lisa Gunning, gives life to the dreamy and melancholic feeling of the song and when she says, “Feel the cold arrive, in my bones” Alison seems as she’s acting in a François Truffaut’s film. Performed in July, “Little Bird” sounds even better with slow motion psychedelic mantra, “July, lie, lie”. The sound is so minimal yet the effect is dope. Alison reemerges from the blue led lights to perform the romantic and ethereal “Black Cherry”; try to cut a cherry in half with a bite, look at it and you’ll understand what she means with “black cherry / stone”. The line “hearing you say it, I could die” is heartbreaking but the show can’t be over without indulging in the shivering and erotic ecstasy of “Train”. It is a journey in a shallow L.A night and in pure Goldfrapp style it portrays a borderline experience that we cannot resist to experience. How can we when the word “apricot” in the song manages to stimulate our minds?
Alison marches and lets the music in one last time for “Strict Machine”, the intro rises like a fever and the song is the ultimate experiment between a human body and a machine that commands our brain and sexuality. Goldfrapp does not have a statement or a manifesto; they make experiments within the only nature more complex than Mother Earth. Our human nature. Alison is still “wired to the world / I’m super brain / that’s how they made me” and as the caravan leaves behind an endless explosion of white confetti, on those blank pieces of paper lie Goldfrapp’s future. Tales to tell.
Tales of all of us.