There aren’t many acts who can begin a gig with pregnant pause and not frustrate an expectant audience. But, Anna von Hausswolff succeeds in creating a breathless exposition shot for the huge cinematic sweep of her performance.
In an opening of Hitchcockian suspense, she and her band take to the stage and sit motionless for what feels like an age, but most likely it’s barely minutes. The crowd is also still, and all that can be heard is the circadian hum of electronic equipment quietly awaiting its inevitable thrashing. What follows is a nerve rattling introduction of harsh percussion that sounds like broken glass, and it’s genuinely quite disturbing. At this point in proceedings von Hausswolff looks precisely like her haunting image on the cover of recent release The Miraculous. Her long locks and the lighting conceal her face and give the impression we are in the company of some twisted seraphim.
The horror movie aesthetics continue as von Hausswolff’s organ sounds in Discovery – like a foghorn warning of impending doom. It’s a huge opening and one that indelibly sets the tone for what becomes a set dominated by songs from her latest record, and rather than that seeming like a shameless plug at the expense of earlier fan favourites it makes perfect sense. Even if you’re not quite sure what it is, there is undoubtedly a narrative thread to these songs and a world created within them. They feel like they could soundtrack an epic story of folklore and mysticism.
The live delivery of the material is a fully engaging and immersive experience; multi-sensory, even. Visually the lighting is highly theatrical and evidently von Hausswolff is quite the performer. Even when stuck behind keys her movements are mesmerising – be it furious head banging or slow motion swaying it is never less than perfectly complimentary and committed. The sound is monumental both in its epic scope and in volume: it is loud, so very good and loud: nausea inducing, organ vibratingly loud. The volume and the nature of the music wrap themselves around you, and there is nowhere to escape. It’s claustrophobic, intimidating and utterly compelling.
This is not a one note evening though, and von Hausswolff is not a cold faceless creature. Tracks like En Ensam Vandrare offer a moments of ambient relief and make for a highly textured gig. And von Hausswolff proves herself warm and affable when she breaks the spell of the music to address the audience. She seems genuinely grateful and surprised at the enthusiastic response she receives, describing the experience as “fucking amazing”.
Von Hausswolff is adept at realising perfect moments, and leaves it until towards the end of the set to unleash the gargantuan Come Wander With Me/Deliverance. It’s a great deal to endure and a wonder to witness as every sinew of your being is shaken to the core. It is a monumental moment on the record: live it is shattering.
She brought her elemental compositions of fire and ice, flesh and blood to a small club in Hackney and left an audience exhausted and replete. The parting shot of an evening with Anna Von Hausswolff is one you take with you ringing in your ears long after the music has faded. It’s something to be grateful for.