7th December | O2 Academy
Photos: Jessica Bartolini
The show starts slowly. The stage awash with blue light, Aldous Harding appears and takes her seat at the centre of the stage. She then patiently tunes her guitar – the audience mutedly mesmerised – before beginning to gently finger-pick a song.
Harding is the kind of artist destined to amass a cult following. Her music is cryptic yet always strangely beautiful and on stage she’s similarly mysterious. She rarely speaks and when she does, it’s never what you expect. “I don’t do sentiment,” she says part-way through the show, and then after a long pause, “…or improv.” And during songs, when Harding isn’t singing, she leans around the microphone and looks into the audience, as if checking, individually, that everyone is okay.
After playing a few songs by herself, Harding’s band joins her on stage. While her solo playing is spellbinding, the lusher sound of a full band is needed to bring many of the songs from her latest album Designer to life. The album’s title track is a bright and fun head-bopper, while ‘The Barrel’ is beautiful in its quiet nuance. While Harding’s finger-picked chords sit at the heart of the song, the rest of the band build it out stunningly. Towards the end of the song, guitarist Huw Evans delivers a restrained solo.
At one point during the show, someone shouts out, “I love you, Aldous,” and a smattering of other audience members follow suit. The response they receive is exactly the sort you’d expect from Harding; she calmly smiles and waits for the crowd to quiet down. Then she says, “This is my way of saying that to you,” before beginning the next song.
The intimate ‘Damn’ is another evening highlight. For the song, Harding sits alongside keyboardist Mali Llewelyn, the two of them playing a looping series of notes. The song shifts and changes slowly, the other members of the band adding subtle flourishes to it. Every time the audience makes a sound, Harding shoots them a serious look, like a stern but well-loved schoolteacher. Drummer Gwion Llewelyn signals the song’s climax, playing the trumpet in its final stretch.
Clocking in at just over an hour, the performance is short but well-paced. While the set misses out a few fan favourites, such as ‘Horizon’, it’s hard to argue that the show has any low points.
During the encore, the band play the piano-led ballad, ‘Imagining My Man’, which sees Harding cut loose vocally, showing off her range. It’s a breath-taking song – one of Harding’s best – and live it’s just as powerful.
“And now for something new,” says Harding, before introducing an unreleased song named ‘Old Peel’. She forgoes her guitar for the night’s final song, instead arming herself with a striped mug and a drumstick. After counting her band in, she begins to strut around the stage hitting the mug, almost menacingly. It’s Harding at her most eccentric. The song itself is fantastic; angular and almost krautrock-inspired. Played alongside the heart-wrenching ‘Imagining My Man’, it feels especially bright and fun. If it’s a glimpse of where Harding plans to go next, then it’s impossible not to get excited. Bring it on.
See the video for ‘Zoo Eyes’ here: