Live Review: Lower Dens (Ghost in the Machine)

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Good Company: Jana Hunter embraces The Melody (photo: MP)

Lower Dens

Scala, London (29/10/15)

To access Scala on the night of Lower Dens’ show, fans had to pass beneath the huge webs of scaffolding surrounding the main entrance, and once inside the converted picturehouse itself, the atmosphere was one of amicable warmth shrouded in dry ice and shadows. This odd blend of a welcoming ambience within a rather cavernous setting was perfectly suitable for the Baltimore quartet, whose music has blossomed into backwards-glancing, forward-thinking dream-pop without losing its inky layers of intrigue. The show itself was something of an embrace into Lower Dens’ universe, where insightful reflections on heartache and identity are packaged in well-woven guitar-band structures.

On this particular night, guitarist Walker Teret was absent, instead operating as the “ghost in the machine” (Jana Hunter’s phrasing, delivered with a smile following a triumphant rendition of the band’s new go-to anthem, ‘To Die in L.A.‘). His pre-recorded parts were broadcast in tight syncopation with the tightly-wired remaining players, with Nate Nelson’s unshowy but imposingly precise motorik rhythms meshing seamlessly with Geoff Graham’s fluid bass playing. The latter had a miniature fan club heckling from the small but enamoured crowd, and the levity in performers and audience alike was refreshing. Applause in the wake of the group’s biggest numbers (‘Electric Current’, ‘Your Heart Still Beating’, ‘Brains’) was drawn out for more beats than expected, and Hunter responded to such a warm reception with short-but-sweet declarations of gratitude. The three clearly enjoyed performing together, and off-record, the electricity between elements was foregrounded: Nelson’s ever-steady drumming only needing to kick off-beat by a fraction to propel a song to its crescendo, Hunter’s dramatic vocal leaps and impassioned choruses delivered in the flesh with real heft.

All ten of Escape From Evil‘s ripe pickings studded the thirteen-strong set, with the reshuffled order giving pleasantly fresh perspectives on the likes of ‘I Am the Earth”s moody pomp and the juddering rush of ‘Company’. In leaning away from their older material, it was perhaps a suggestion that Lower Dens are keen to advance even further from the sharp, occasionally pulpy tinges of their first records and embrace the more open-chested aesthetic of their third album. Even so, the set’s easy highlight – as well as its greatest surprise – was the resurrection of old curio ‘Batman’, the 2011 standalone single which packs a naggingly effervescent spring. Within thirty seconds of its campy, infectious fretwork, it had gleeful grins on the faces of the collective, and crowned a set that drew attention to the band’s pop trajectory, highlighting the chemistry and confidence between the three performers, while reminding listeners that one of the pop albums of the year is well worth discovering anew.

Setlist

Sucker’s Shangri-La // Quo Vadis // To Die in L.A. // Non Grata // I Get Nervous // Electric Current // I Am the Earth // Batman // Your Heart Still Beating // Company // Société Anonyme // Ondine // Brains

02/11/15

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Posted on November 3, 2015, in The Music World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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