They say that first impressions count for a lot, so it’s lucky for Stealing Sheep that most – if not all – of tonight’s crowd already know them from their bewitching debut, Into The Diamond Sun. As they make their way on to a dark stage, weaving between a selection of glowing mannequin legs, their dramatic entrance is scuppered by a series of technical failures, which sees them fiddle away with wires and sound guys for a good five minutes, before re-starting in slightly less dramatic fashion.
That’s all (almost) forgotten after a few minutes though, as the Liverpudlian trio prove that their debut was no accident, but also not something they’re planning on repeating. Tonight’s the first time they’ve aired the new record, Not Real, which is scheduled for release on 13 April, and, in the three years since its predecessor, they’ve rounded their sound, looking more to ’80s electronica and – they reckon – ’50s exotica, rather than the Pagan-ish chants and harmonies that steered their first.
Despite the shift in sound and approach, it still feels like a Stealing Sheep record; it’s more sophisticated, less gimicky you could say, but the roots are still there. We likened Into The Diamond Sun to Bat For Lashes, First Aid Kit and Broadcast – and its follow-up is still vocal-orientated, with heavy psychedelic influences. There’s heaps going on – samples, synths and programmed beats – but in places it manages to sound eerily minimal, and a few tracks wouldn’t sound out of place on a Hot Chip record.
Love and Apparition are delicious slices of synth-pop that set off Rebecca Hawley’s couldn’t-care-less, almost sneering, ice cold vocals. Another new track, She, sounds like the soundtrack to a pulp sci-fi film, while the title track has so many odd bits thrown at it, it would leave Field Music‘s Brewis brothers reeling that they’d not thought of it first. Judging by the dancing going on throughout the 200 members of the sold out crowd, they like it too.
Stealing Sheep always make an intriguing, fascinating sound, but it’s when they cross into weird that they’re at their best. Tonight the weirdness comes courtesy of drummer Lucy Mercer. A previously functional band member who could be over shadowed by her band mates, who were often clad in sequins and more likely to bop around and take centre stage, she relished her solo tracks, transforming them from so-so on record to the stand outs of the night. Evolve and Expand forces the room into silence. Her acoustic guitar held high, Mercer gives a sly grin as she slowly strums and creeps out her words, the song made all the more haunting for its lack of electronics. It elicits the biggest applause of the night – bigger even than old favourites Genevieve and Gold.
The old cliché about the tricky second album seen to, they visibly relax, looking quite stunned to have received such a warm reception – and in east London of all places. They finally seem to enjoy themselves for the last song of the night, Shut Eye. First impressions do count for a lot; Stealing Sheep wooed us with album number one, and look set to seal the deal with its follow-up.