Coming to the end of the streak of consecutive shows, but not the end of shows attended in September. Seeing Aldous Harding was my second most-anticipated show of the series, under Mount Eerie, despite seeing her three times already. She’s just that special of a performer.
If you haven’t seen or even heard Aldous Harding before, I’ll start this off saying that you really should do your best to accomplish both things on the quick side. There’s clearly a reason I’ve seen her four times within a year’s span at this point. Her songs are simple, yet carry the weight of the planets (yes, this is a nod to one of her new, unreleased songs). Her vocal style can shape shift to different caricatures of singers, like a lounge singer, a folk singer, but more importantly, back into an undefinable, completely unique form of her own. Combined with her lyrics and voice is the performance aspect, which is also up to par with the talent of the two former. She definitely gets into her performances: making faces to match the intensity, making prolonged eye contact with members of the audience, making slightly self-deprecating comments about the set, etc. It’s a complete package.
I went with a friend who had never seen Aldous before, so I was really excited to see what she thought of her performance. She began the set with potentially my favorite song off the new record, “Swell Does The Skull,” a spare, striking song that slowly develops and whittles away at the soul with its lyrics. She sang it perched up on a stool, awkwardly cradling her guitar and occasionally slouching back so deep that she has to glance up with her eyes to look at the crowd. This is the Aldous that I’m used to seeing now, but one I’m not immune to. I’m not done getting goosebumped when she hisses out lyrics, or when she breaks the act and flashes a weird grin, or just like, whatever she does performing. I, along with most of the audience, remain bewitched despite potential overlap between shows.
The reason I know for a fact the audience was bewitched was because everyone was stone-cold silent. There was a bit of chatter near the beginning, but once Aldous got started on her set, Bowery Ballroom went deadly quiet. She seemed to be put off by these eerie silence, commenting on it multiple times. She wasn’t sure if she liked the silence more than the chatter, since she felt defenseless in this current state. There was a male audience member who tried to initiate conversation with her at this point, to which she kind of made a face at, shrugged and started her next song. Way to go, Aldous. That guy was weird.
In her band was Invisible Familiars, a fellow Kiwi musician who I’ve seen back her up multiple times now, along with Joan As Police Woman playing bass, a notable figure in the NYC music scene. Together they made a tight band that split duties between guitar, keyboard, synth, backup vocals and bass, while Aldous played guitar and sang.
The setlist comprised of all “new” songs: tracks that are off of her 2017 album Party, along with unreleased new material, all of which sounds extremely promising. Earlier in this review I mentioned “The Weight Of The Planets,” which is one of the new songs, one that I’m very excited to hear from the studio. She doesn’t perform anything from her self-titled record from 2014, which is a bit disappointing since there are some really great songs on that record, but they vary quite a lot from this new material, so I can definitely understand the decision not to tap that far back. I’m glad I got to see these older songs at least once – the first time I saw her back in October 2016 when she opened for Deerhunter. Check out one of them below.
One note about this show that deviated from the others I’ve seen is that she did not end the show with her self-appointed “best song of all time,” Paul McCartney’s “Single Pigeon.” This time she played a song I had never heard before and if I remember correctly, it was a song she had never played live at all. She switched over to playing the keyboards – another first. I’m looking forward to hearing the studio version!
In the end, it was another great show to add to her already long list of admirable performances. My friend loved the show and said that even though “Horizon” is probably her least favorite song on the record, she loved hearing it live here. This is for good reason too – “Horizon” is undoubtedly Aldous’ biggest and most bombastic song, so she pulls out the stops in performing it live. On record it kind of sticks out awkwardly if you don’t have any context in how she performs it, but once that piece of the puzzle locks in, I think it becomes a much more enjoyable track. One that is highly anticipated on an average listen-through as well as on the end of a setlist.
Morale Check: With one more concert to go in this daunting run of nine shows in eight days, I was still feeling determined and also very tired. This was the pick-up I needed to complete it though. Who could stop me? Nobody.