Image via Facebook.
Author: Melody Menu
Gig Review – Aldous Harding at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Thursday January 25.
Aldous Harding walks onto the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent stage without fanfare. The lights have barely dimmed before she looks down and checks her equipment to the crowd’s delayed applause. She begins solo, just her voice, her guitar, and her wavering, unpredictable presence. She’s sitting down and, as she swings from side to side, her features contort and her chin juts as she reaches within to pull out deep and guttural sounds and shapes.
The audience is completely silent as her songs meld into one another, a medley of withdrawn numbers from her 2017 album Party. Veering into the more upbeat ‘Imagining My Man’, the lights soften and become kaleidoscopic as she is joined by her band, but the scene does not change. Harding’s eyes roll back, she licks her lips, a stark contrast to her warm and affectionate lyrics. Delivering a heartfelt and romantic song, Harding is the opposite of sensual or sweet, evoking the feeling of watching her film clip for ‘Blend’. In it, Harding dances with toy pistols, colourfully made-up and showing off skin. But the viewing experience is oddly unnerving – growing increasingly confronting as Harding glares into the camera.
This otherworldly persona becomes a blank canvas, which affects Harding a certain distance. The audience can be enraptured, taken with her on the journey, or distracted – even horrified. Within this carefully constructed image, Harding is free to concentrate on her music, just as it shields her from objectification. Each lurch, each snarl, presents a resounding ‘fuck you’ to the sentiment that women – and artists in general – must look, behave, or sing in a certain way to succeed.
At once theatrical and disturbing, Harding’s presence invariably distracts from – and yet ultimately reconnects to – her music. ‘Horizon’ sees Harding free-forming without guitar to the same crushing keyboard chords, gesturing between two distinct choices and ways of being. New track ‘Weight of the Planets’ has an infectious, slow-burning groove to it, a surprisingly lounge-style number. In all, Harding is challenging and thought provoking – all of which can be summed up in Harding’s own words as she readies herself for the jaunty new tune, ‘Pilot’, and the end of the performance.
“I know I don’t say much anymore. It’s not because this doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s just because it’s easier that way.” This way, the focus is purely on sound and feeling: on her vocals, now piercing, now soft; her guitars; keyboard; the drum machine; and bass clarinet; all of the intermittent resonations that spill over into an awe-struck crowd.