courtesy of Goldfrapp.
Allison Goldfrapp, the fairy godmother of electro-pop, descended from her pink-chiffon cloud to treat us mere mortals to one hell of a concert at the 9:30 Club on Monday night. The performance was one of the first dates on her U.S. tour in support of her fifth album, “Head First“, but the concert also served as a reminder to the pop-forgetful that she is the best in the biz when it comes to dreamy-vocals set to retro-chic, electro-beats. This summer is ridiculous with its schedule of electro-pop divas visiting DC. From The Golden Filter, to La Roux, to Robyn, and Dragonette each group owes a huge debt to Goldfrapp for putting the pop polish on the synth and keyboard sound that began its revival as the much harsher electro-clash in the late 90’s. Will Gregory and Allison Goldfrapp, the duo that compose Goldfrapp in the studio, have been cranking out great albums since 2000, while Allison and her live band have been putting on terrific live shows full of style and originality that will be hard to forget when seeing their electro-pop descendants perform over the next couple of months. Monday night’s Goldfrapp show took a few songs to really get going but once the band got into their groove it was pure escapist, retroactive, pseudo-futuristic bliss.
A few things I’d like to get out of the way right up front.
The set design for this tour is very, very silly and a little confusing. Basically, Goldfrapp emerge from and then perform in front of a giant silver donut. I wish I had a picture of this thing so you could see for yourself but unfortunately I do not. Really a donut is the most polite thing I can call this very lame stage prop. Even when they shined different colored lights on it, the thing still looked like a giant donut. Either that or one of those inflatable circle things pregnant woman sit on for comfort. Who knows, maybe Allison is trying to hint at something? The band’s costumes were not much better. Seemingly made out of the same silver material as the donut; their sagging yet tight outfits made the band look like extras in a scene from the old Buck Rogers‘ television series. I was half expecting Tweaky to emerge from the silver donut to complete the effect.
As far as the atmosphere of the club, it was uncomfortably sold-out and the crowd had more than its fair-share of self-centered jerks. After the show I spoke with several groups of attendees, who stood in very different sections of the club, who all had some portion of the evening ruined by Chatty Cathy, Break-up Bill, and other generally rude a$$holes. This is a real pity because this was not a cheap show and I’m sure some real fans had to dig deep to attend, only to have some oblivious jerk talk through the whole performance or worse literally elbow and shove them.
Oddly the lighting at the start of the show was somewhat lacking. I was expecting Goldfrapp to put on an uber-dramatic presentation, but the show started out with just house lights. This was a bit of a let-down but was soon rectified when the lighting tech woke up from his nap a few songs into it and the visuals really kicked into high gear.
But enough with the gripes! How was the show?
The Giant Silver Donut Tour started off with a fantastic version of ‘Crystalline Green’ that got the crowd raring to go with its “Here we come, driving down” opening lines. For the most of the set, Allison wore a black bodysuit under a glittery, black, shawl that looked like it was made out of evil Christmas tinsel or the chaff that fighter jets eject to confuse heat seeking missiles. It was the one outrageous outfit that really worked. Her tinsel coat caught the light in hundreds of crazy ways as she danced in slow motion, marched back and forth, and flinged her wild blond hair all around herself.
The music was a little reflective of the lighting situation. After ‘Crystalline Green’ the band settled into a four song stretch that just didn’t really work for me. The songs were slower numbers like ‘I Wanna Life’ and ‘Head First’ which are strong on the new album but made me feel like Allison might be entering the aging-diva phase of her career the way they were performed live. There was some hope in a very good live rendition of ‘Dreaming’ in this stretch but that was tempered by ‘A&E’ which I felt was the only flat-out lame song of the night.
Thankfully ‘Dreaming’ was more indicative of how the concert would progress. By their sixth song, ‘Number 1’, the band and the lights were firing on all cylinders. The stage became bathed in dramatic colors, lights were firing off all over the place, and the band started moving around the stage more. For the first time since the set opener, the band and the crowd felt like they had some energy. After ‘Number 1’ the energy level in the room and quality of the music skyrocketed for the rest of the show. Each song then took the crowd higher and higher until by set’s end we were all completely entranced.
The two song run of ‘Believer’ and ‘Alive’ (even with a dropped lyric) was so bubbling with joy that it felt like the walls of the club might blow-out. People were grinning from ear-to-ear and getting down. The crowd may have had its share of jerks, but it also had an overwhelming majority of dance fans. Goldfrapp then cooled it off for a moment with the almost Kraut-techno sounding ‘Shiny and Warm’. Once the crowd caught their breath though, this song too ascended into dance-pit mania. This song had the best visuals of the night as a series of powerful silver strobe-lights cut through a wall of fog to illuminate Allison and her shiny chaff-jacket like she was dancing while lit by machine-gun muzzle-flash! Golfrapp dropped the ‘Train’ bomb on the crowd next, which seemed to lift many people into their own personal music nirvanas.
Mine came a song later when Goldfrapp performed a truly transcendent version of ‘Ride a White Horse’. It was on this song that all the elements of the show came together perfectly and beautifully. I was so taken by the extended live performance of this song that I had to remind myself what I was watching was real. The lights were spectacular (some of the best I’ve seen in the 9:30 Club), the band were killing it, and Allison’s voice….oh my god. There is a reason Allison Goldfrapp is a star and it is performances like Monday night’s ‘Ride a White Horse’. She totally stole the hearts of everyone in the club with that performance. She played many roles on this song; from dance-diva, leading us around the floor with her voice to pin-drop, awe-inspiring, big-voiced heroics; it was all there. There were two points during ‘White Horse’ that I thought to myself “now this is why we are all here, this is what it is all about“. The first was a musical breakdown that featured Allison delivering spacey reverbed-howls, the second was a bit later in the song when the band dropped all their playing except for the beat and Allison’s voice; here Allison mesmerized us with a soul-stirring verse until the band kicked back in a few moments later.
Goldfrapp closed their main set with ‘Oh La La’, but I was still buzzing from the amazing ‘Ride a White Horse’ to really pay attention.* We were treated to two encores. The first was a three song set that included a cyber-punk, operatic rendition of ‘Utopia’ and a very nice ‘Black Cherry’. ‘Black Cherry’ was a slow number that I felt redeemed the earlier (sort of boring) slow songs. I thought it was beautiful and really showed the power of a band needing to find their groove. They closed with ‘Rocket’ and ‘Strict Machine’; both songs left us all aching for more.
At the start of the show Allison mentioned that they were all jet-lagged and I thought that you could certainly tell during the first few songs. Thankfully they shook it off like the pros they are and ramped things up for the rest of their set. Despite the slow start, Goldfrapp delivered a show that is the electro-pop concert to beat this summer. I can’t wait to see and hear what the rest of the summer has in store for DC.
* Really, ‘Ride a White Horse’ was that damn good!