Goldfrapp, Old Royal Naval College, gig review

 

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The Independent Culture

The beautifully lit-up, genteel environs of Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College play host to the only London show electropop duo Goldfrapp will play this year.

It seems to have appropriate scale and drama: a black box of a stage lit up with swoops of white light against the dark river, the contrast of historic domes and columns this side with the modern flicker of Canary Wharf on the other making an (admittedly rather forced) visual match for Goldfrapp’s sound: half mysterious, grandly orchestrated sweep, half glittering glam disco stomp.

Actually, the first tranche of tracks - taken largely from this year’s delicate album Tales of Us - have a witchy, storyteller vibe to them, carefully spun with strings and fingerpicked guitar from the extensive onstage band. Alison Goldfrapp’s other-worldly, whispering vocals seem to send a chill out onto the night air. But then this brisk August evening provides it’s own chill too; early on, her attempts at stage chat extend to “I hope you have lots of sexy thermals on… I know I have””.

It seems highly unlikely she’s wearing (itals)that many cosy undergarments; the singer flutters in a slinky black dress, arms a-waving and blonde curls a-flying, like some vengeful Hollywood star who’s decided to start conjuring the elements. Maybe she’s been taking notes from Greek tragedy Medea, which Goldfrapp scored for the National Theatre recently. Her voice, on Tales of Us songs like ‘Stranger’ and ‘Annabel’, is seductive, yearning and spooky in equal measure, even if the former track is as glossy and cinematic with strings as any Bond theme tune.

Goldfrapp’s voice is endlessly fascinating, whether she’s doing what sounds like a human impression of the Doctor Who theme on ‘Utopia’, or wrapping you in a thick, heavy, dusty velvet curtain of sound, as on ‘Alvar’. Or maybe her voice just stands out because the rest of the sound quality is poor. One of a series Greenwich Music Time live shows over the bank holiday, it’s a most refined and civilized affair - the older crowd politely queuing up at the several Pimms, gins, and local ale bars - but they seem to have woefully few speakers for an open-air venue this size. Strings can sound narrow; the bass is virtually non-existent.

While this doesn’t matter too much on recent, coaxingly intimate material, it’s a shame on the dance tracks from previous records which get a well-received airing later on. And they are the tracks that suit this wide-open space and entertainment-expectant audience - when Goldfrapp complains about being “bloody freezing” near the start, I overhear grouchy mutterings of “do a dance song then”, “ramp it up”.

Ramp it up they do, with the shimmering, grooving disco-diva delights of ‘Ride a White Horse’, ‘Train’ and the Donna Summer-esque ‘Strict Machine’ - even if the deliciously squelchy synths are lacking a bit of oomph. Nonetheless, the crowd is on its feet and dancing - well, enough for her to comment sardonically “be careful now…”

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