September 09, 2009

Music Resolution 2009 – Ladyhawke, Manchester Academy 2, 17th May

Join me and my New Year’s Resolution to go to at least one gig every month of 2009.

The problem with gigs is that the artist isn't necessarily the master of their own fortunes, even as they stand up there in front of the audience and put on the show everyone's theoretically there to enjoy. A bad audience can cause even a good performance to fall curiously flat. This can often be the case when an artist rides a wave of hype or a big hit – audiences are dragged in on flimsier pretences than for many other gigs. Whether to be seen as the coolest kids, or to hear the one or two songs they actually know from the radio, crowds can be awkward and unmoved in the face of almost anything.

Reports of early Ladyhawke gigs suggested that this talented Kiwi wasn't the most outgoing onstage presence, partially down to shyness emanating from her Aspergers. But a long period of touring appears to have hardened and encouraged the woman known to her parents as Phillipa Brown.

In Manchester, in the upgraded Academy 2 (she was originally due to be crammed into everyone's favourite chapel of crap acoustics, the Bar Academy), she was engaging albeit in a determined and single minded way, bringing her songs to the audience from behind her fringe but with more stage banter than expected. A guitar malfunction prompted the sort of deadpan, Kiwi-accented commentary which might be more familiar to fans of those other popular New Zealanders, Flight of the Concords. “G's in tune... D's in tune... Sorry this is boring while I tune... A was very out of tune, sorry if anyone heard that... oh my god, E's so flat!”. It almost felt wrong to grin broadly as she declared the encore would begin with a cover of a song by “Petty Smath”.


Pouting on tall buildings - 8/10 rockstar points.

It was a good cover too. Heck, all the songs, barring one, were well played, slightly heavier than the album, and delivered by a woman rightfully riding high on acclaim for them. Even if the superlative album opener 'Magic' fell slightly flat as the first song (its delicate, Depeche Mode-esque, electronic acoustics are presumably not the easiest to recreate, even without the Bar Academy's 'assistance'), the rest of the tracks were bashed out with suitable aplomb.

Yet the whole thing felt a bit flat. The audience just didn't seem to be engaging with the music, there was no rush of excitement for the surging album tracks like 'Professional Suicide’ (possibly one of the best tracks of the night) or the strutting ‘Manipulating Woman’. Even bone fide single ‘Dusk Till Dawn’ didn’t seem to be enough to rouse the crowd.

Having to wait for the hits of ‘Paris Is Burning’ and ‘My Delerium’ to spark the crowd was actually quite frustrating for those of us who have bothered to listen to the whole album. It had all the potential to be a brilliant gig and, ‘Magic’ apart, all the songs were rendered in a beautifully faithful way by Brown and co.

Brown has charm and tunes, she just needs fans who actually want to listen to more than just the singles. I hate to fall victim to indie snobbery tendencies, but perhaps it would have been better to leave this gig in the Bar Academy and not admit the singles-only fans…

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