London Grammar in Edinburgh: A concert review

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Having missed London Grammar’s Glasgow set at TRON festival, it was essential to go down and watch what could be the award-winning band’s only show at the Usher Hall for a while, given the nearly four-year gap since their last trek up north.

The night was ably begun with the solid half-hour set of LA-based indie band, Lo Moon, who, despite being somewhat awestruck by the concert venue, as lead singer Matt Lowell explained, displayed the impressive barrages of guitar sound, propelled by powerful drums and airy vocals, with which they are making waves across the Atlantic. The songs “This Is It” and “Loveless” were especially worth a listen.

The 45-minute wait for the main event dragged until, almost unexpectedly, the trio appeared on stage and “Who Am I,” from their 2017 sophomore release Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, gently arose without need for an introduction. It was a somewhat inconspicuous and understated opening to what was a sold-out, hyped-up show, their only one in Scotland for this album’s UK tour, one that really typified what proceeded and, perhaps, what the band considers their raison d’être.

This unassuming face put on by the band is not to be sneered at. Aside from the crowd being gently prodded, rather than implored, by vocalist Hannah Reid to sing during the familiar songs like their remarkable debut hit “Hey Now” (whose YouTube video brought them to the fore in 2012 soon after graduating from Nottingham University), there was little revving up of the audience done, nor needed. Instead of this, the band let each of their songs stand up for themselves – tracks from both albums, particularly “Strong” from 2013’s If You Wait, and “Big Picture” have this reticent way of becoming burgeoning, and big-hitting symphonic crowning moments, enhanced by dazzling strobe effects and sweeping panoramics on-stage behind them.

The quasi-orchestral textures provided by diminutive guitarist Dan Rothman and hirsute multi-instrumentalist Dominic “Dot”’ Major (whose thrashing of the cymbals with timpani sticks was striking), are just as crucial to the group as Reid’s oft-lauded vocal lines. Not only are all three members major players in the band’s approach to songwriting, but the snappy, detached guitar riffs and the strident, thunderous keyboard, drum machine, and drum-kit combinations could be listened to separately and retain the same magnetic quality.

Comparisons have often been made to Florence Welch, Natasha Khan, and other prodigiously-voiced women of the indie-pop honours board, but there is no doubt that Hannah Reid has carved her own name right up there. Despite having talked openly of the stage fright she has suffered from early on in the band’s rise, the opening of  “Rooting For You”, a personal single from the new release, was sung a cappella, much to the confusion of some of the packed crowd, who failed to understand the concept of silence during what was meant to be a charged, yet delicate, moment. Sat down so she “could reach the high notes,” it was a brave and formidable display, parading the scope of her sometimes faltering, sometimes vibrant vocal reach.

Given the vast amount of effort that must go into the vocals and, presumably, the rest of the music, it is understandable, but still disappointing, that the gig was a brief one –the band was barely an hour in when they took the applause and left. It was only the ten minutes of encores including “Oh Woman Oh Man” and “Metal and Dust” that saved the brevity of the concert from being overly outrageous. They still had a good few of their biggest numbers to get through from both this year’s album and their last.

Otherwise, this was one of few qualms – it was a stirring performance from one of the most unique bands around at the moment, breath-taking visually and staggering vocally.

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