One of the many satisfying things about music is watching a band establish themselves over time and then release a game changing album that propels them up to the next level. That’s what has just happened with Manchester’s Virginia Wing. Their 2014 debut album Measures Of Joy and subsequent follow up, 2016’s Forward Constant Motion, saw them establish an under-the-radar, low-key electronic sound but this year’s Ecstatic Arrow album moved them into a different league. Importantly, it also offers a strong political, feminist statement from start to finish (their shows supporting Hookworms recently saw them play in front of a commendably direct and provocative banner urging ‘end rape culture’).
Ecstatic Arrow is a hugely ambitious and remarkably well executed piece of work, in possession of a myriad of interesting aspects bubbling away under the surface. It will be viewed as an album of longevity.
Yet, unfortunately tonight’s show at Oslo didn’t see it make an entirely successful translation into the live environment. It’s immediately noticeable on opening track Be Released. On record its overlapping components are brilliantly streamlined into one big adrenaline hit but tonight the impact is less, possibly due to a problematic vocal mix or maybe due to Alice Merida Richards’ enthusiastic movements across the stage resulting in the vocal delivery suffering. We wait to see if it is just early technical issues at play but similar can be said of other tracks.
The Female Genius shows how they treat melody in alternative ways without sacrificing any of the pop impact yet the plunging synths aren’t enough to compensate for some over-projected vocals. Still, it’s hard to miss the line about “going forward faster” accurately pinpointing one of their main current aims as a band. The loosely hung-together Eight Hours Don’t Make A Day has a similarly pertinent line, Richards singing in studied, Laetitia Sadier-style fashion about how “I am choosing to live my life in the way that I decide” – they certainly don’t lack confidence or clarity of thinking. However, the live execution again falls slightly short of the album, electronics ramped up at the expense of precision.
The Second Shift sees saxophone added to the mix which helps it pay greater dividends and Glorious Idea has an effervescent, propulsive quality. The comparisons to the Yellow Magic Orchestra that have recently cropped up in the press still make sense here and there’s also an unexpected Young Marble Giants feel in how detached and solitary the music is, largely due to Richard’s vocals.
Seasons Reversed offers a powerful synth-led finale, channelling fellow Mancunians New Order, and sees Richards enter the crowd to dance in an attempt to liven up a largely static audience. Ecstatic Arrow may not have fully hit the target tonight but with a few minor adjustments there’s no reason why future live shows can’t match the quality of their recorded output.