Over the course of their four-year career, New York’s Holy Ghost! have been habitually late to the party. Their first single Hold On arrived in 2007; their debut, self-titled album came out this year, and this gig at Hoxton’s Bar & Gril is their first headline show in the UK. And then there’s the band’s sound: cool, clean, danceable electro-pop in thrall to the 1980s, specifically the output of Factory Records. It’s a sound that has dominated much of indie music for the past eight years and could well be entering its fin de siècle phase.
Not that Holy Ghost! have been lazy in those four years. They’ve remixed, among others, Moby, Phoenix and MGMT, released an EP, Static On The Wire, and have supported Cut Copy on tour. And their perennial tardiness might really be a sign of perfectionism. That’s because their recently released album is a masterclass in dance-pop production, with nary a cosmic keyboard, Peter Hook-style processed bassline or handclap out of place.
On stage the core Holy Ghost! duo of vocalist Alex Frankel and Nicholas Millheiser become four. They go about their duties with a furrow-browed studiousness: the drummer, tucked away stage right, is barely visible behind the blur of his sticks, Millheiser makes sure his guitar licks just so, and Frankel intermittently takes a break from his vocal duties to batter a cowbell with the deliberateness of a man carrying out a DIY task.
Consequently, Holy Ghost! live sound a lot like Holy Ghost! on an iPod but, crucially, the slightly clinical sound of the recorded versions is replaced with a warmth and directness that can’t help but improve the songs. This means that even slightly underwhelming album tracks like Do It Again sound much better on stage.
It’s a shame they didn’t play Some Children which, owing to its kids’ choir and unexpected Michael McDonald guest spot, is their most ambitious and genre-defying track to date. Presumably Mr McDonald wasn’t in the Shoreditch area. But, as the masterful Static On The Wire brings to close an expertly performed (if brief) set of dance-pop, it’s really hard to complain too much.