Sunday, 23 November 2008

Electric Ladyland

Electronic music, by virtue of its very provenance, is never going to be especially warm and human. For Ladytron, this issue both defines their menacing, industrial sound and made their recent live show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire an oddly remote and lifeless experience.

Hailing simultaneously from Glasgow, Liverpool and Bulgaria, Ladytron have been peddling ominous electro since 1999. Their most recent album Velocifero has garnered some ecstatic reviews, vaulting the band from supporting Nine Inch Nails to selling out numerous dates on their own worldwide tour.

Alas the London date of said tour doesn’t quite get off to an explosive start. Thanks to the misjudged bass rattling our ribs and overwhelming pretty much everything else coming from the stage, opener Black Cat doesn’t quite pack the punch it does on record. The exotic Bulgarian lyrics do manage to lend a considerable degree of foreboding to the opening proceedings, but Ladytron fail to blow the crowd away as they had probably hoped.

As they work their way through Velocifero, the band maintain an icy aloofness and fail to conjure up much in the way of stage presence. Although no doubt crucial to their dark and brooding image, this approach means the first half of the set feels oddly flat. Whacky, attention-grabbing stage antics are obviously not what makes a good live show, but I had expected Ladytron’s futuristic electroclash to be more engaging. Not a smile, not a move, they could well be robots, but then that’s kind of the idea with the ‘tron…

Their cold otherworldliness is exemplified by Ghosts, in which Helen Marnie dispassionately and unapologetically articulates ‘doesn’t mean I’m sorry’. Her flawless diction and nasal voice are quite distinctive and a linchpin of Ladytron’s sound, but lack any glimmer of humanness. Tracks like Runaway, however, reveal the emotional vulnerability beneath the detached exterior, the lyrics detailing twisted relationships and emotionally desolate lovers.

It is only as the show passes the halfway mark that some of the magic (and light) of Ladytron’s music starts to shine through. Kletva sounds positively dreamy and evocative, whereas in set-closer Seventeen singers Marnie and Aroyo really start to look like the formidable team they’re often billed as, alternating between staring each other in the face and looking blankly out into the crowd in a seamless visual display of cohesion.

It is in the encore song Destroy Everything You Touch that the band finally seem to take off, having spent the entire rest of the set slowing and ponderously gathering momentum. Marnie for one leaps up and down and finally dares reveal that she’s enjoying herself.

Ladytron certainly have the tunes and by all accounts the touring experience, but alas this cyborg takes a long time to warm up.

Photo by Hidden Shine on Flickr

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