Thursday 31 October 2013

Warpaint and Pins at Brixton Academy - 30 October 2013


It's been a long time since I've been to Brixton Academy. It's not changed a bit. It’s true - there is advertising in the Gents for special offers that expired in 2008.

The stage is occupied by Martina Topley-Bird, resplendent in a fire engine red gown. She looks slightly like a novelty toilet roll cover.

Martina accompanies herself with a loop machine, which creates backing tracks from brief snatches of vocal. She then sings over the top of these rhythms, her voice smoky and distinctive.

It's an interesting exercise, but these all sound like extracts or demos for a larger, more complete work. Even so, it is a shame when a roadie appears on stage to give her the hook before the completion of her set.

I've seen Pins before and was impressed at that time. On tonight's showing, the band have progressed even further.

For starters the band are totally at home on the big stage. Their dual-guitar attack rings around the cavernous venue. The acoustics of the place are not kind and seem to swallow much of the sound from the middle to upper register, but all the acts tonight suffer from this phenomenon.

Singer/guitarist Faith has grown into a mighty stage presence, either throwing axe-heroine shapes with her instrument or crouching down to draw the audience in towards her. That she is dressed in natty black hot pants also helps.

The drummer is a powerful focal point within the band. Sophie concludes the set stood on her kit, hammering down as the others look on. Pins have taken the opportunity afforded them in this support slot and grasped it with both hands.

I had rather forgotten Warpaint. When I last saw them they were a phenomenal live band whose music did not translate readily to studio recording. I can't say that I've had their debut album on any kind of heavy rotation.

Others clearly disagree. The Academy is full tonight and when the band appear they are given a rapturous reception.

The four members of the band remain masters of their sound, which is a fluid, bass-heavy amalgam of funk and folk-tinged rock, over which vocals are traded. The fascinating thing is that there is no single point of focus, no obvious band leader. Warpaint are a collective unit and no one part is less important than any other.

As the set progresses, the great strength and occasional weakness of the band becomes more evident. These are rarely songs in any conventional sense, more a succession of grooves and jams - a sort of Fleetwood Mac in Dub. I think that whether you enjoy this depends upon the degree to which you surrender yourself and follow the music, the beat, the rhythm.

Tonight, I feel somewhat isolated. I can't get into the mood; I need something to cling to. I get some stability with back to back readings of 'Undertow' and 'Billie Holiday', perhaps the nearest that the band comes to the verse/chorus/verse format.

The band finishes with an even looser, bassier work out than before. Warpaint are never less than fascinating, and there really is nothing else out there that sounds like them. But sometimes you have to tune in before you can turn on to what they do.