There comes a point where the visage of being inscrutable begins to wear off, even the most beguiling cool kids have runny shits some days and when your defining trait over ten years into your career remains a kind inscrutableness, the trick risks wearing thin. The backing music is very Cure-esque, the singing is soft, melodic, harmonious, channelling any number of 90’s female vocalists from Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval to Dolores O’Riordan. Seeing them live (and indoors) is a significant clip ahead of listening to them on record, that distant echo quality reverberates satisfyingly. It’s nice; lovely even, like being stoned in a bath eating a Cadbury’s Flake. The empty, echo-y, airy, sound reverberates, the crowd enjoy themselves, but beyond the sentiment of it being (very) nice, (very) pleasant and (very) relaxing, what in the damned hell exactly is it? Garnering opinions from punters it’s difficult to get any kind of definitive opinion without venturing into cliché.
Supporting act, Æ MAK, got things going, a lively twosome in white jumpsuits who without doubt own every Björk album. Set to a Paul Simon-ish afro-beat, their set is fun with co-ordinated dance routines of robot movements and karate punches. Not quite stellar, but energising and full of effort and energy, warmly received, their hallmark track, the catchy, ‘I Can Feel It In My Bones’ encapsulates their sound.
Warpaint themselves were greeted with fairly rapturous applause; the staging was minimal, with the nice detail of potted fern plants with fairy lights. They open with ‘Heads Up’, from their latest album of the same title (which has been alternatively hailed as either an exciting new direction, or a sign of no direction at all). You immediately get the impression that Warpaint are a band best witnessed live. What seems a little distant and too effervescent on your player, fills the space, draping the atmosphere in a ghost-like acoustic velvet.
The between song patter is minimalist, to the point of barely being there at all, which isn’t surprising, lyrics are not a strong point, the opening track ‘Heads Up’, epitomizes this, “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay…”. There’s a disinterested feel to them, a little, but not much playfulness, guitars are put down, then picked up, the leads sometimes drift over and play to the drummer. They like each other, there’s an easy chemistry between them, that speaks of neither love nor hate, but mutual respect, they like their music, but they strike me as self-aware of their own limitations, late into the set they spontaneously break into a version of Seal’s ‘A kiss from a rose’, before apologetically stating that their next song (‘New Song’) “isn’t as good”.
‘Undertow’ remains their best and is greeted happily, it soars and drifts, it stays in its lane, but it’s gorgeous. It’s the song that led them to be heavily hyped in their early days. It promises a band that will suck you in and drown you, Siren-like to a fault, “now I’ve got you in my undertow…” a song which grew out of a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Polly’, it retains a timeless quality. But whilst ‘Poppy’ doesn’t come anywhere close to giving you all of Nirvana’s tricks, ‘Undertow’, markedly threatens precisely that.
Some songs open with the kind of heavy drumming and bass rifts that would lead you to feel that these are going to go to places where rhythm will dominate, but it never quiet comes like that. Soon enough the Warpaint signature sound swamps in and commandeers, a sound much more apparent and uniform live than on their three different albums.
They remain difficult to pin down. Throughout the gig I struggled to note anything distinctive; each song merged into the next. I don’t think that it’s a sign that there’s nothing there, there’s a quality and knack to being difficult to pin down, it can mean you’re transgressive or in the case of Warpaint it’s more that you don’t really have anything to say – not everyone has to have “something to say”. Yet all in all, they work great live; it’s perfect come down music, and Lord knows the world needs good come down music, more’s the pity the kind of audience Warpaint attract has more than likely never had a come down in their life* Seanan Kerr
* Nor should they of course.