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  • Aldous Harding - Gig Review: Aldous Harding @ Auckland Town Hall, Auckland - 26/10/2022

Aldous Harding - Gig Review: Aldous Harding @ Auckland Town Hall, Auckland - 26/10/2022

28 Oct 2022 // A review by Roger Bowie

Ah, Aldous, it’s been three years since you filled the PowerStation twice and etched your name and face in our annals. Three long years, only relieved by a cameo at the Flying Nun birthday party last year. Maybe I missed one, but that’s my story. Warm Chris entered slowly into the psyche earlier this year, not as rampantly invasive as 2019’s Designer, more an extension than progression, but clearly a substantiation of the move beyond folk to a blend of alt-pop-folk, a Kiwi version of Welsh sparseness mixed with eclectic vocals and discordant sonic surprise which characterises the work of John Parish and his most famous exponent PJ Harvey. An Aldous Harding sound embellished with Welshness.

But first we get H. Hawkline, aka Huw Evans, who ambles on dressed for a BBC kids show (not far from the truth) and introduces himself, presumably in Welsh, along with his band, which is an old reel to reel tape recorder resplendent in analogue and once started cannot stop. Huw Evans was here back in 2019 but only in the Aldous band (which is also true tonight) so we haven’t learned that he is a recording artist with a number of releases and has a voice right out of the Mary Hopkin school of Welsh valleys and at times uncannily like Marlon Williams.  But we only get that after he starts a short set of compelling indie folk rock which I am presuming is mainly new songs but at least two from his 2017 release I Romanticize and one is drawn to deduce that he is on a musical wavelength which resonates with the Aldous world. There’s some Badly Drawn Boy and Edwin Collins analogies to be made along with a Man(ic) guitar and it’s good and often very good and the audience agrees but noisily. Chat chat chat. And he’s a Pisces. Booo! H. Hawkline ends his set with what he calls a karaoke song where he puts down his guitar and romps around to the EDM sound emanating from his tape machine as if it’s the Last Thing on my Mind. Interesting.

There’s a new Aldous tonight. No longer in white or muddy orange and ghostly makeup and hat. Simply dark, but in a kind of cassock which hangs loose and plain apart from a cryptic zodiac-like design on the back. No makeup, or almost none, and long hair tied back in a firm ponytail. There’s no sartorial statement from this band tonight (Huw still in his grey socks and brown shoes). It’s almost bland. It’s not about us, they seem to be saying, it’s about the music, and ……by the way, as Aldous reveals in a rare comment later on in the set, it is just for you. Bland, platitudinous comments delivered sparsely and almost in spite of herself, are the only intimations of intimacy. Except that everything else is. Intimate. The sum is greater than the parts.

And then there is the music. Did I say it? Warm Chris is an amazing record, with crafted songs filled with poppy moments and strewn with sonic surprise. It just took a while, that’s all. Ennui kicks off, plodding piano, subtle chord shifts, cool sax, exuberant drumming and shimmering guitars. The same band we saw back in 2019 delivering emotionlessly perfect renditions. Is this the definition of ennui? The search for emotionless perfection? Aldous voice the key instrument, shifting the character from bored onlooker (Ennui) to junkie (Tick Tock), to feverish soul queen (Fever), to secret lover (Warm Chris) to screechy punk goddess (Passion Babe), to Kate Bush (Leathery Whip). A softer, murmuring voice at first, set back to almost a mumble (or maybe it’s the sound) but then venturing forth, painting the characters and embellishing with Tourette-like phonic tics. It’s not a voice to be messed with. Aldous singing, strumming a guitar, playing tambourine and pushing Mali (Llyweleyn) aside to play piano on her “hit” Bubbles where I think I hear a muffed chord but then she repeats it to make it alright. Perfectly imperfect.

Aldous standing, swaying, then jerking, a puppet on a string. Aldous sitting, her left leg outstretched tapping a sound like one hand clapping. Aldous moving, sometimes fluid, sometimes turning a tambourine into a whirly twirly, sometimes tapping a cup, or placing whatever percussion support delicately and purposefully on her chair. Perfectly placed for perfection. Aldous picking up the mic, so there’s room for a defiant thigh slap and a jerky dance which means the puppet master is working hard somewhere above.

The silence between songs is deafening. No-one dares drop a pin in case Miss Trunchbull slices us apart with her stare. Is she meditating? Calming her nerves? Or just preparing for precision? (Sometimes it’s just waiting for her guitarists Huw and Harry to swap roles….do they always play the same songs?). Well, if indeed it is nervous tension, then embrace it into the song. Turn the trance into entrancing. Everything is for the song. Choreographed, structured, sculptured, complete.

And when do the shoes turn into slippers?

All the songs from the album. Plus a handful of classics. Imagining My Man. She says she is tired. But she wants to do it right. Is she really tired? Or is this part of the act? (She does it right). Old Peel, Barrel, Designer as first encore, and then a courageous conclusion with the melancholic She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain, and she does.

With all this bland perfection, this (almost) flawless reproduction, this sound of silence, this cultivated remoteness, what you might ask, makes an Aldous Harding show so captivating?

Because in a word, an Aldous Harding show is mesmerising. Because she herself is mesmerising. Because she herself is just one component of the overall experience of the song. Because you have to concentrate to get it all. That’s why.

Aldous Harding and her band at the Auckland Town Hall. Slightly strangely subdued, but no less sublime.

Setlist:

1. Ennui
2. 
Tick Tock
3. 
Fever
4. 
Treasure
5. 
Fixture Picture
6. 
Lawn
7. 
Warm Chris
8. 
Staring At The Henry Moore
9. 
The Barrel
10. 
Bubbles
11. 
Passion Babe
12. 
Imagining My Man
13. 
Old Peel
14. 
Leathery Whip
15. 
Designer
16. 
She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain


Photo Credit: Danielle Hao-Aickin / Salt & Sugar Photography
H. Hawkline Photo Gallery
Aldous Harding Photo Gallery

 

About Aldous Harding

An artist of rare calibre, Aldous Harding does more than sing; she conjures a singular intensity. Her body and face a weapon of theatre, Harding dances with steeled fervor, baring her teeth like a Bunraku puppet's gnashing grin.

Igniting interest with her eponymous debut album, Aldous Harding quickly became known for her charismatic combination of talent, tenacity and shrewd wit. The album drew attention and accolades from some of the most illustrious corners of the music industry, receiving 4 stars in MOJO and Uncut, while UK blog The 405 hailed her a “toweringly talented song writer”.

Harding's latest album Designer was released in April 2019. Designer finds the New Zealander hitting her creative stride. After Party, Harding came off a 100-date tour last summer and went straight into the studio with a collection of songs written on the road. Reuniting with John Parish, producer of Party, Harding spent 15 days recording and 10 days mixing at Rockfield Studios, Monmouth and Bristol’s J&J Studio and Playpen. From the bold strokes of opening track Fixture Picture, there is an overriding sense of an enigmatic artist confident in their work, with contributions from Huw Evans (H. Hawkline), Stephen Black (Sweet Baboo), drummer Gwion Llewelyn and violinist Clare Mactaggart broadening and complimenting Harding’s rich and timeless songwriting.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Aldous Harding

Releases

Warm Chris
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Designer
Year: 2019
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Party
Year: 2017
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Aldous Harding
Year: 2014
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape

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