Live Music + Gig Reviews

Goldfrapp @ Union Chapel, London

17 May 2001



After a stunning gig at ULU in February, Goldfrapp‘s two nights at the Union Chapel had sold out almost immediately. With the new single (a rerecorded Utopia, the fourth release from the debut album Felt Mountain) just out and seemingly already in short supply, and press reports tipping Goldfrapp for the next Mercury, expectations were high.

First though came Appliance – a black-garbed and rather moody trio of whom good things were whispered. The lead singer switches between keyboards and guitar and is moodily handsome, with a voice a little like Lou Reed on a good day. The difference is that we can’t hear a single lyric – but that may be down to the ever-tricky acoustics of the Union Chapel. Why is the bass always too loud? Another rather chunkier gentleman plays with lots of knobs and switches before taking up position at the drums, and the third player is bass guitar. Although we haven’t a clue what they’re singing about, the music is interesting, atmospheric, just occasionally sounding a bit like murky Pink Floyd. Worth watching.

While we waited for Goldfrapp to take the stage we were treated to some very strange and vaguely Teutonic bits and pieces, including oom-pah and yodelling on the PA system and a statuesque lady wearing a tight uniform and fishnets selling t-shirts. Then the violinist sidled onto stage wearing lederhosen and a silly hat – I kid you not…

Presumably this was all to set the scene for Alison Goldfrapp, who in contrast to her subtle look at ULU was dressed to kill. Blonde curls everywhere, escaping from a fetching little hat, a dress that wavered between Nazi dominatrix and Carry On nurse, and scarlet fuck-me shoes. Dietrich rides again? Ah, but Alison Goldfrapp can sing as well…

Before we got that vision of loveliness the set kicked off with Will Gregory and the rest of the band, supplemented by four excellent backing violinists (looking as if they’d escaped from a Hungarian tea-room), and an orchestral version of Lovely Head. Immediately, the magic was apparent. The scoring is so luxuriant, and yet so fresh, the timing so perfect – there is nothing quite like this music to drag you under, totally unresisting.

Add Alison Goldfrapp with her fabulous purity of voice – every testing high note perfectly centred with an ease many operatic sopranos would envy – and you have dynamite. At ULU she looked a bit uncomfortable. At the Union Chapel she smouldered, strutted and seduced. Interestingly, she hardly used the vocoder – as her confidence on stage has increased, perhaps she realises that her voice alone can do the most extraordinary things.

The lighting effects (in that already atmospheric building) were fabulous, but she could have held the audience in the palm of her hand without any such frippery. Okay, so we didn’t get much that was new, apart from the new version of Utopia, and a new B-side that I can’t tell you the name of because I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy. There was almost a complete track listing of Felt Mountain.

The first encore gave us the cover of Let’s Get Physical, which is terrific, and the second, Horse Tears – one of the standout tracks from a uniformly brilliant album. But we didn’t really notice the lack of new material until later. The spell she casts (together with Will Gregory as the engineer of the whole shebang, complete with brown boiler suit) is so complete that any imperfections go unnoticed. Mercury? Nah – they won’t have that much sense. What I want to know is when the next album is coming out. One simply isn’t enough. And I wish I’d got tickets for the second night as well.

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