Ladytron, Astoria, London
Wednesday 24 September 2003
For a few minutes at Ladytron's penultimate show on their Light & Magic tour, their famed, boilersuited hauteur almost cracks. Something seems to be wonky with one of Daniel Hunt's machines, and it needs a bit of whatever electro-pop bands do to tune up. How do they fill the time? Not with banter, that's for sure. "We're not", deadpans Mira Aroyo, one of the band's two singers, "really a jokes kind of band." Then Hunt archly and improbably raises a fist in the air, his machine fixed, and hurricane Ladytron storms onward at force 10.
It ought to be hard to warm to Ladytron, given that audience interaction and human glitches aren't exactly their forte. They stand almost stock-still in square formation on stage, nodding their heads intently in lieu of dancing, wearing matching outfits and sporting almost-matching hairstyles, too - now that no-jokes Aroyo has grown hers out, she looks almost identical to her co-singer, Helen Marnie, until the stage lights come on at the end of the gig.
But they're a much more full-bodied and felt proposition than the image suggests. A closer look at their circuitry reveals great pop wiring (particularly when Marnie is singing) with smartly avant-garde trimmings (especially when Aroyo is singing). What's more, when they plug in and flick their switches, with the central four-piece beefed up by a drummer and a bass-player, Ladytron work up a potent electro-head of sound.
Early in the set, "True Mathematics" and "Cracked LCD" - great titles - show two sides of their impeccably integrated early-Eighties roots, the former sounding like vintage Kraftwerk, and the latter a near-dead-ringer for, gulp, Steve Strange's Visage. What's more, once the band have navigated a slight mid-set lull of weaker, album tracks, almost every tune sounds like a hit that should have been. It's odd that they haven't had a Top 30 single yet, given how persuasive the closing slew of tracks is. "Blue Jeans" is pure pop, with sparks of wistful yearning crackling across its icy surface; "Evil", too, has the kind of, well, evil chorus that rattles around in your head for days, even prompting Marnie to venture out from behind her keyboard for a little freeform head-nodding.
After a venue-vibrating, national-grid-stretching barrage of noise, they encore with that other missed-hit single, "Seventeen", both Marnie and Aroyo mock-foxing it up stage front. Finally, a buzzy cover of Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)" and a smartly raucous take on the Sheffield industrial-electro prototypes Cabaret Voltaire's "Nag Nag Nag" prove how broad the band's range is. It's electro with a pop heart and a fine Krautrock riot. Talk about the rise of the machines. Ladytron don't need jokes, really.
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