Warpaint | Live Review

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Whatever expectations you had of the band previously, the night guaranteed to exceed them in copious measure.

It was a cold, dark February night in Bristol, as a swarm of people hurried their dinners and arrived en masse to see Warpaint’s early show at the O2 Academy. Whilst indigestion was a risk, disappointment was not. Despite an extended wait for admittance, due to the late arrival and soundchecking of All We Are, the night was entirely unforgettable.

All We Are were a captivating support band from start to finish. Their songs — drawing to mind Wild Beasts and Foals-y indie/art rock — were performed with such coquettish subtlety that at times it even bordered on resembling the lush shuffle pop of London’s xx; emphasised particularly by bassist and vocalist Guro Gikling. In all, it was the kind of music you’d expect to hear from the support at a Warpaint gig, making All We Are a perfect addition to the UK tour and ones to look out for in future.

In an extraordinary feat of sympathy from the O2 — after playing Talking Heads’ ‘Remain In Light’ in full over the sound system — Warpaint assumed their respective positions on stage a full quarter hour earlier than planned, to an extended pulsing ‘Intro’ no less. I must admit, I was apprehensive with the O2 for a Warpaint show but ultimately, it made sense. The stage space meant each member could be positioned forward in a single line, so you could see what was going on at all times, even from a distance. Furthermore, it allowed technical details, such as the stage-sized projection of the album cover, to be made without hindrance or compromise.

Opening with select songs from their latest self-titled LP, I was at first slightly underwhelmed. Whilst I thought the tracks sounded much like their recorded counterparts, I was disappointed that the translation to the live setting didn’t provide anything more; like the record, ‘Intro’ promised a sound which didn’t quite follow through on successive songs. However, the songs are naturally better than most bands could muster, and ‘Keep It Healthy’ was an acceptable choice, particularly since it is closely linked with ‘Intro’ on album. Yet, the choice to perform ‘Hi’ after baffled me — I didn’t imagine it to be a strong choice for a band obviously capable of better — but in hindsight, I can now see it as a band reserved, holding back its best till last.

The set gained momentum soon after though. ‘Bees’ was next, and it was simply brilliant. Whereas tracks before seemed to confine the band almost tediously, ‘Bees’ was lively, danceable and sonically stimulating; it permitted the band to show off their talent — drummer Stella Mozgawa was on top form — and gave their set a hit of vitality. This was followed by ‘Composure’, a song which followed suit and only strengthened Warpaint’s innovative reputation.

Another couple of songs from their latest LP followed; ‘Love is to Die’ and ‘Biggy’, both highlights from the album which I’m glad made their way into the set. Unfortunately, ‘Love is to Die’ during its captivating chorus seemed diluted and unremarkable, but I daresay this was caused from issues in the mix rather than the band’s own skill; all the parts were there, but some were simply lost in the background. But whatever issues the band faced seemed to have been resolved during ‘Biggy’.

A new track, ‘No Way Out’ was introduced to the audience by vocalist Emily Kokal at this point — a serving reminder on Warpaint’s relationship with the live setting, to fashion and air new tracks on tour. It was a gorgeous eight minute song which started in the softer range before building to its grandiose climax; truly cathartic. ‘Feeling Alright’ followed in the excitement generated.

The closing tracks of the main set included ‘Undertow’ and ‘Disco/Very’ which were linked into a single, unremitting medley. ‘Disco/Very’ is of particular note; one of the highlights from their latest LP, and by far the most audacious offering Warpaint have released in recent years. With the exception of ‘Elephants’ during the encore and its powerful, ensuing coda, this was where the set was ultimately building to.

Two more tracks were performed during the encore: ‘Baby’, performed solely by Kokal, and an unplanned ‘Billie Holiday’ from the full band. If it wasn’t for the uninvited tonedeaf audience singalong during the former, it could’ve been remarkably touching; but ‘Billie Holiday’ was beautiful nonetheless and a deserved fan favourite, prompting repetitious, mantra-like chanting — ‘B. I. L. L. I. E. H. O. L. I. D. A. Y.’ — from all.

Overall, it was impossible not to find yourself completely swept up by Warpaint by the end of the evening. Whatever expectations you had of the band previously, the night guaranteed to exceed them in copious measure. Certainly, these are four extremely talented women who know their business well and are more than deserving of the critical praise they receive. Whilst it was not the best gig I’ve ever been to, it was entirely worth it if only for the rapturous finale, and I certainly hope this isn’t.

Listen to sophomore album favourite ‘Love Is To Die’ right here: