Tales Of Us by Goldfrapp may have been released in 2013 but its presence has extended well into 2014, this arguably being the year its ravishing, crepuscular beauty truly took hold. Tonight saw them celebrate it in the suitably grand surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall, only two months after they performed at the equally illustrious setting of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich (there’s something about such venues that undoubtedly suit their music).
The first half of the show saw them play the album in full (well, almost – Simone is omitted for reasons unexplained) with the help of the London Contemporary Orchestra. From the beginning it’s clear that the intimacy of the album will be retained in the huge space it fills tonight. It’s evident immediately on both Jo and Annabel – the latter largely consisting of little more than Alison Goldfrapp’s flawless, sensuously part-whispered vocals. Drew sees the entrance in proper of the orchestra, the soaring strings drawing us closer into the alternative world populated by the characters in each song. Later, Stranger achieves a similar feel.
It’s a tantalisingly restrained album on record, something impressively replicated live given the increased means at their disposal. It’s nowhere better witnessed than on Ulla which manages to be elegant and sweeping, with a Cocteau Twins-esque transparency. The exquisitely underplayed intensity of Alvar follows, all condensed, targeted impact and gold-streaked guitars. The techno-in-a-wind-tunnel of Thea sounds even more remarkable, the shifting textures and rhythmic expansion combining to stunning effect. The composure and confidence of the performance is at odds with Alison’s visible nervousness (at one point she admits “I’m so nervous it’s ridiculous”). She aborts an introduction to Laurel and briefly leaves the stage afterwards, causing a few worried expressions on stage. The song itself – the emotional, introspective core of the album – is delivered perfectly, the most majestic and painfully beautiful moment of the night. Album closer Clay shows how they excel in transferring those ‘lose-yourself-in-the-music’ qualities to a live, communal environment.
The encore sees them revisit their pop-embracing, pleasure-seeking previous incarnations but not before the all-female, 54-piece Lips Choir take the stage to sing a version of Voicething, hinting at what Kate Bush crossed with Steve Reich might sound like. They remain on stage for the rest of the night contributing straight away to the bolstered, supercharged Utopia. A glorious quintuplet from 2008’s Seventh Tree album stands out – Clowns, Little Bird, A&E, Caravan Girl and Happiness, with the latter in particular sounding unapologetically joyous. As the show draws to a close John Grant is invited on stage to sing on an positively auroral version of Monster Love before joining Alison for a cover of Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra‘s Some Velvet Morning. It puts the seal on a special night – even the unfathomable omission of Strict Machine from the set in favour of Black Cherry can’t detract from the sense of triumph. Before leaving the stage Alison says this will be their last gig for some time. With utterly captivating performances like this we can only hope they don’t make us wait too long.