Aldous Harding // Live Review & Photoset

23rd May | Trinity

Photos: Craig Simmonds

If there’s anywhere in this city more suited for the designer stylings of the ethereal Aldous Harding, it must be well under my radar. The cavernous womb of Old Market’s Trinity Arts Centre seems purpose-built for the gothic folk stylings of the New Zealand-born songsmith.

Opening up the night is the honour of Australia’s Laura Jean, a gentle wind of delicate folk heartache. Though a little timid in her presence, her music blooms in breathy utterances, delicate and at times haunting above cold and glacial synths. As noted by Jean herself, these songs speak of loss and longing in the slightly less hectic throes of middle age. Her mellow, soulful voice offered some warmth to tales of misplaced affection and continental drift. Vocally, comparisons to Regina Spektor spring to mind, whilst musically these tracks sway between folk and contemporary pop.

Tonight’s crowd may have been quiet yet attentive throughout our opener’s set, though as the first murmurs of movement from Harding’s camp ripple across the stage we hear an instantaneous emergence of noise. Aldous drifts into view like a wraith, draped in brilliant white, bearing a thousand yard stare like a weapon of war.

An ominous, arpeggiated guitar breaks into a gleeful honky tonk piano whilst the rasp of the snare mimics Harding’s gleefully creepy tonality. Sonically the band are reminiscent of 60s and 70s folk and Americana outfits, with a generous helping Hunky Dory era Bowie. Speaking of which, Aldous’ ethereal and at times alien stage persona reeks of Bowie’s character acting, the Thin White Duke reborn as a sinister but sweet gothic figure.

Floral and organic, there is something inherently human beneath the cold and unnerving facets of this performance. It seems that a common theme amongst these tracks forms as a sweet and childlike wonderment, undercut with a sorrowful sense of mourning. Nowhere is this more obvious than the few solo piano sections that Harding herself describes in a self-deprecating manner. A mischievous and impish flavour to her vocal acts as a cover for the vulnerable and emotive tenets of Harding’s character, allowing for several layers of meaning to be painted with each individual stroke.

The joyful and jaunty aspect of the band’s rhythm section allows for this dichotomy of power and vulnerability to reach impressive heights. I find myself perpetually mesmerised by not only Aldous herself but also the infectious rhythms drifting in her wake. Placing myself at the rear of this space, a tumbling image of pain and prosperity becomes clear beneath sharp flashes of light. I can’t help but feel overcome with the spectacle somehow achieved in such dulcet tones.

On record, Aldous Harding’s latest outing materialises as a well-crafted and primary effort of folk-pop achievement, though in the live setting it takes on a different colouration. Its subtlety and charm somehow drift to the forefront after some time, much like a magic eye picture and open up a delicate and haunting realisation of true human emotion.

See the video for ‘The Barrel’ here: