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Planningtorock, King's Cross Scala, 11 October 2011

  • @Tom_Mendelsohn

There’s something deeply eerie about this show. It’s not just the prophetess-like figure of Janine Rostron swaying in the darkness of the stage – something’s off about her face. It’s hard to tell what, but as she rocks back and forth in time to the cultic drumbeat of her music, it gradually becomes clear: her nose and brow are grotesquely prominent. It’s a prosthesis, we’ll confirm later, but it’s monstrous, especially protruding from an otherwise attractive face.

It’s ghoulish, but it fits with the otherness of the music: skewed, metronomic avant-electro, writhing underneath twisted, haunted-house vocals. Rostron, the one-woman multi-instrumentalist behind Planningtorock, is making good the promises and hints from her second album ‘W’.

To start, we’re treated to a piped-in, subtly distorted version of an opera which may or may not be the Magic Flute, according to our quite limited grasp of the classical oeuvre. It's a dramatic - and dramatically pretentious - opening gambit, but a fitting one.

This gives sudden way to ‘Doorway’, a song driven by two talented tenor saxophonists jamming away from the shadows. It’s excellent, a real cut above the subdued song on record, with the two saxes given space to explore. This is the course for the evening; a sparse collective of musicians making even more of the (already strong) source material they’ve been given to work with.

‘W’ as an album has a high number of sensational moments, and we get all of them tonight, from a bulked-up, disco-y ‘Livin’ it out’, to an especially off-kilter ‘Manifesto’, during which Rostrom really hams up the creepiness.

The complexity of the on-record production means that we end up with a hybrid gig, featuring a backing track playing most of the instruments, supported by an electric drummer-cum-DJ, and those two saxophonists. On the understanding that it would be impractical in the extreme to feature a live musician for every instrument, what we’re left with is a strange but inspiring combination. The saxes are used sparingly, but they're expertly deployed, making everything they touch sound even more otherworldly.

The DJ is not shy of maximising the impact of the Scala’s PA’s capacity for bass, and many songs which were recorded sounding gentle and witchy end up jolted with extra megajoules of esoteric cosmic energy, their every beat a Godzilla footstep of bowel-shaking rumble.

We barely see any of this though, as the stage remains low-lit throughout. There's an enthusiastically cryptic projection show fizzing away at the back, the usual mixture of found footage and post-everything Lynchian meaninglessness that accompanies all vaguely arty music these days. It's good for what it is, but it would’ve been nice to get more of a glimpse of what the musicians were up to.

That’s the only quibble, though, of an excellent show put on by someone determined to be refreshingly different.