The Enmore Theatre, Sydney, 9th March 2015
Having seen them perform four times now, the return of London Grammar to Sydney this time around saw a more confident and buoyant performance from all members of the band at the Enmore Theatre show on Monday night.
The self-admission from Hannah Reid that she is always nervous before a show was not evident as Hannah, Dot and Dan took to the stage some 15 minutes late to an eagerly anticipated and expectant crowd approaching 10pm.
14 months ago, London Grammar played the Field Day New Year’s Festival and a headlining show at the Metro lasting 45 minutes which showcased their talents but their stage presence was in its infancy and banter was kept to a minimum. It is a joy to see the progression, now that Hannah, Dot and Dan exude self-belief and confidence, having quite a few shows under their belts and have learnt to relax and enjoy these live experiences.
The stage show and production has moved up a level also with a full lighting show and, a welcome addition to this tour, a 4 piece string section with 3 violins and a cello. Anybody that is familiar with their debut CD If you wait will know that strings recorded on the CD by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra play their part on the recordings, so this addition totally enhances the sonic attributes of the show.
So as the clock struck 10pm, the string quartet of female performers, took their places on the 2nd level of a double storied stage. A continuous row of led lights provides the boundary between the two levels and creates a very effective visual. Having the backing musicians elevated behind you signifies their importance and their prominence was important as their contribution throughout the night was significant. A bright orange hue not too dissimilar from a heavenly glow hovers over the 4 spaces while the ladies took their positions and then all of a sudden total darkness.
Two small white lights illuminate Dot’s keyboards in otherwise complete darkness to accentuate that the opening song will be a slow burn, a gradual increase in sonic and visual activity. Dot plays a variety of notes on his keyboard, careful not to give the identity of the opening track away and then 2 more white spotlights appear. Dan now opens his account on his Fender guitar with a minute and a half of finger picking notes also careful not to reveal the opening track. Two more spotlights now define Hannah’s place on stage and she also hums and warms herself up. It is now apparent after a couple of minutes that the opening song is “Hey Now” and even though Hannah hasn’t sung a word yet, her sound is so pure and captivating. The crowd applauds as they recognize this song now.
London Grammar’s strength is Hannah Reid’s vocals. As I listen to Hannah signing the opening words “Hey now, letters burning by my bed for you” I am reminded that she has an exceptional depth in her vocals. Hauntingly beautiful and of an ethereal pop-opera quality, the low larynx position and her open throat consistency sounds so effortless and she breathes easily and her airflow is good. The humming has been required to prepare her vocal cords for the depth that she can deliver and the strength and brightness of her voice just melts me.
Hannah Reid also possesses something that no other singer has. The “Wooohooo” factor. This magic “Wooohooo’’ closed vowel sound appears in many songs, is her signature and she uses it to great effect. Used as a bridge between lines of songs, Hannah sings “wooohooo” and this allows her vocals to reset. The closed vowel sounds resonate and create a beautiful link to join the lines of “Hey Now”. As the song progresses, I feel that spine-tingling sensation, that Hannah’s vocals are touching my soul. Hannah has the ability to elongate a word or sound, change the pitch to highness or lowness with such strength and depth that you can imagine that this sound comes from deep within her. A special place. The “Wooohooo” factor plays its part in other songs later in the show.
Track 2 also commences with no lighting, almost a minimalistic tribal and primal approach with Dot playing the bongos and Dan on guitar as Hannah launches into “Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me”. Again Hannah commands the centre of the stage and simple lighting shifts all the focus to the vocal on the track. The sound quality of this show is spot on and the instrumentation is subtle as to not drown out Hannah’s voice.
This is the 1st time that I have heard this song being added to the set list and it is a welcome addition. “Interlude” was written solely by Hannah Reid and for this song she takes her place on the keyboards. This slow tempo song is played beautifully on the keys with Dot adding a delicate touch on cymbals. Hannah, Dot and Dan seem a lot more comfortable on stage these days and Hannah thanks the crowd at the end of this song. “Thanks for coming tonight. We are really pleased to be back. Australia is the 1st place that really liked us. Despite the scary animals we will be back again”.
“Shyer” is next up with Dan plucking the notes at the top of the neck of the guitar which sounds amazing and Dot takes his place on the drum kit. The vocals are stunning on this track and another “Wooohooo” moment during this song takes me to another place but the best is still yet to come. There are not enough superlatives to describe how you feel when Hannah sings, suffice to say that the brightness of her voice and depth just draws you in like a magnet. Hannah has the ability to simultaneously adjust the pitch and volume of sound and sings with no out of tune overtones. Her delivery is flawless and for someone so young it is quite incredible to listen to. Dan plays a solo on guitar right at the end of the track to which Hannah tells the crowd “That has always been my favorite part of the song – Dan’s solo right there”.
The bottom half of the stage has a large video screen behind it and the black and white video to “Wasting My Young Years” accompanies the string section as the track opens. This sounds familiar to most of the crowd and polite applause imbibes the song as the strings gather momentum. The video adds another dimension to the show which up to this point has been stripped back and bare. Hannah’s vocals are again strong and consistent and this track is one of the crowds favorites. At the conclusion of this song, a gentleman in the front row stands and applauds vigorously. A standing ovation and we have only hit song six. I think to myself that many others could just as easily stand up including myself, but lack the courage to show such open affection for what they’ve been listening to.
Dot takes over the microphone and tells us ”This is the 1st time outside of London that we have played 2 shows in the same city. Our chance to get away from the cold and bleak weather where we come from”. At this point Hannah pipes up “Sh*t basically” which makes everyone laugh and then Dan joins in “You are so lucky to live in the most beautiful city in the world. It’s crazy that the water in the harbour comes right up to the houses”.
“Stay awake” is next but the highlight of the night for me is “Nightcall”, the only cover song performed during tonight’s performance. Dot opens the song on the keys but as Hannah belts out the opening line “I’m giving you a nightcall to tell you how I feel”, I get goosebumps. The depth and consistency of the vocal sung with a low larynx and open throat is just beautiful and flawless. I am mesmerized by the beauty of her sound quality and the cleanness of her voice but Hannah’s ability to sing in the higher range is the WOW factor for me. In order to sing higher in the range the cricothyroid muscle tilts forward which lengthens the vocal folds. It is her control of this muscle and keeping the larynx low which Hannah does for deliberate effect which creates that desperation when she sings “ I’m gonna drive you through the night, down the hills” line in the song and sung an octave higher that takes me to sonic ecstasy. I have been trying all night
to think why do I love Hannah’s voice so much and that’s the answer right there. It’s the crying or struggle or desperation effect that Hannah delivers when she is singing this part of “Nightcall
” that resonates with me so much. Effortless in her execution and in total control, I have just witnessed something truly special and will never forget how good that was. Just for good measure a few “Wooohooo” moments in "Nightcall
” complete what is an exhilarating and exceptional live rendition of this song.
“Strong” is the song everybody here knows and when Hannah asks us to sing the chorus ‘Because I suck at this' we duly oblige as the video for the song plays in the background .
Dan a song later, takes hold of the microphone once again. “ This is the 1st song that Hannah and I wrote together. We wrote this song in my room at university and it is called ‘Flickers”. Dot plays the bongos and again another breathtaking vocal from Hannah.
The last song before the encore turns out to be "Sights” which has a great laser light show and background video of speeding cars through tunnels which is interesting. Dan’s guitar playing on this track is exemplary and again many of the notes come from the top of the neck of his trusty Fender guitar. The violins join in and the 6 spot lights turn on and off with great effect.
After the obligatory encore break, Hannah returns to the keyboards with Dot and performs “If you wait”, another track that she wrote by herself and to top off the evening the final “Wooohooo” moment is as good as all the others throughout the night. Hannah takes a sip of her hot tea and leaves us with a stirring rendition of “Metal and Dust” which happens to be the last song for the night.
At just 1 hour, the concert is a little short but for the $70 ticket price and two support bands you could hardly argue. I have just witnessed a truly memorable live concert performance and am so excited that Sydney gets to see it all again on Thursday night at the Hordern Pavilion. This writer will back up and be there for sure.
see more photos here