Before they hit the festival circuit in the summer (prior to a full tour pencilled in for autumn 2010), Goldfrapp are out on the road to do a handful of intimate gigs. They’re a “warm up,” if you will, a practical rehearsal for the big ones. But don’t be fooled into thinking that these shows are half-hearted run-throughs, a testing of the water. If you’ve been lucky enough to get tickets to Goldfrapp’s two UK shows at the Oxford O2 Academy and Leamington Spa Assembly, you will have witnessed an electro-pop show par excellence.
After the Oxford show, Goldfrapp’s first full headlining gig in support of fifth LP Head First, released back in March, the band travelled to the award-winning surrounds of the Leamington Assembly to do it all again and what a show it was. With singer Alison Goldfrapp arriving on stage in a sparkly gold outfit that looked like a sexy alien Christmas decoration, the band plugged in the synths and the guitars (and got ready behind the drum kit) and did what they do best – an energetic, passionate show that proves that electronics can have heart.
A DJ had warmed up the capacity standing crowd with tunes from The xx, The Prodigy, The Smiths, The Velvet Underground, MGMT, and Dizzee Rascal among others, but it was the sensual sounds of Black Cherry opener “Crystalline Green” that really got the audience moving. A perfect opener that put the spotlight on the rubbery synth lines and Goldfrapp’s otherworldly vocals, it was greeted by a resounding cheer. Alison has the stage presence of a Debbie Harry – diminutive but incredibly charismatic. She was classy and on-point throughout, full of vigour and excitement about being back out there on stage – and was joined in that mood by a joyous band playing with precision and passion.
The joy was palpable in the new material, which earned some of the biggest cheers of the night. The fine line between joyous abandon and melancholy was laid bare on the beautiful “I Wanna Life,” while new single “Alive,” with its Billy Joel-meets-Elton John flavour, found Goldfrapp delighting in some dramatic 21st century Dusty Springfield arm gestures. The title track “Head First” was a particular high point of the new material, with Goldfrapp in fine voice and beaming throughout.
The rest of the set mostly concentrated on the more upbeat material from 2003’s Black Cherry and 2005’s Supernature, with an extended version of “Ride A White Horse” earning dizzying delight from the crowd, and the lascivious synth lines of “Train” bouncing off the venue walls. Their first two Top 10 hits, “Ooh La La” and “Number 1,” and the well-known album track “You Never Know,” were greeted with recognition from a crowd that seemed to encompass a variety of music fans, and not just the Goldfrapp die-hards. Only “A&E” from last LP Seventh Tree survived into the new set, and its arrangement here was in keeping with the up-tempo feeling of joy and energy.
It was in the encore that the pace slowed down for the first time. Re-emerging wearing a space-age outfit that looked half like an exotic flower and half like an alien invader, with its glow-in-the-dark ruffles, Goldfrapp emitted a crisp, crystalline vocal to begin “Utopia,” the only inclusion from 2000’s debut Felt Mountain. Her voice was powerful and beautiful, serene and otherworldly, all at once, and when stripped of the synth-heavy backing, Goldfrapp revealed herself to be a pretty superb vocalist. Even when the synths are all-powerful, her voice possesses a sensual, breathy individuality, but it’s laid especially wonderfully bare on the more subdued cuts. Another followed in the gorgeous “Black Cherry,” which replaced Head First‘s lead single “Rocket” from the Oxford set. And then, just as the newly calm, wistful atmosphere was set, they upped the ante for a sexy “Strict Machine,” the pulsing synths and stomping rhythm ending the evening on a high. The audience clapped and cheered and stamped its collective feet for a second encore, but to no avail. The Goldfrapp band left the stage in the best way possible, leaving the audience wanting, nay, demanding more.
What emerges from a show like this, at this point in their career, is how strong the Goldfrapp back catalogue is, how (often surprisingly) diverse the material is, how inventive and effective their use of synths is, and what a superb stage presence Alison Goldfrapp has.
For a supposed “warm-up gig,” you could hardly do better.