Here’s some free advice for those scanning the calendars for concerts to attend: when a band is playing at a venue that is larger than their name recognition would suggest is practical, and they are also charging relatively little for ticket prices (say, $15 or less), then take note. This is a proven strategy for growing an audience, and for a band to succeed at it they need to have supreme confidence in their live show. You’ll rarely be steered astray, and in the rare cases when you are, then at least you didn’t spend much money. We live in a city that is not an automatic stop for every major tour, and if you want to see good live music, then you have to be a bit adventurous.
That could be said for the rather sizable crowd at London Grammar’s concert at the State Theatre who all dug their cars out of snow and stomped through slush to hear the English trio, who are currently more famous abroad than stateside. It was a wise move. The concert was essentially a showcase for frontwoman Hannah Reid’s singing, and the 24-year-old’s voice is nothing short of a miracle – capable of holding an entire room with a rich midrange that is similar to Florence Welch or Annie Lennox, but also able to soar up into the stratosphere with a deftness that one might even dare compare to Whitney Houston.
Her two bandmates provide an ideal launching pad for these flights. Dan Rothman drove the songs with slippery guitar licks, while Dominic ‘Dot’ Major added subtle textures with keyboards and occasionally sat at a drumkit to lend the compositions emphatic bursts. The overall effect was a minimalist yet robust, 1980s-indebted sound that moved as fluidly as a school of minnows and occasionally crested into dramatic waves.
The songs themselves fell a bit on the flimsy side, but they are still a young band and a stronger narrative thrust and more compelling lyrical content should come with experience. In the meantime, they are capable of relying on Reid’s voice to do the heavy emotive lifting. Her voice conveys a wide range of sentiment, particularly in a live setting. Opening song “Hey Now,” for example, dissolved into coos and wordless phrasing that was so evocative that it seemed to suck the air out of the room.
The only major drawback was that the set was too brief. With just one 43-minute album and an EP to their names, they don’t have a deep well of material to draw from. Opening act Until the Ribbon Breaks filled out the night with a sample-heavy set that evoked 1980s synth pop and 1990s trip hop, and was the rare band to prompt recollections of Primitive Radio Gods’ 1996 single, “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in my Hand.” Collectively, the pair provided a powerfully felt evening of mannered, moody music, but more of it would have been nice.
WHAT: London Grammar
WHERE: State Theatre, Portland
WHEN: Jan. 24