GOLDFRAPP + SALT ASHES – DE LA WARR PAVILION, BEXHILL-ON-SEA 10.4.22
Electronic duo Goldfrapp, comprising singer Alison Goldfrapp and composer Will Gregory, formed in 1999. Their early sound was characterised by sweepingly cinematic arrangements, and Alison’s soft breathy vocals. Having signed to Mute Records, they released their debut album, ‘Felt Mountain’ in 2000. Although critically acclaimed, it was not an immediate commercial success, but it paved the way for six subsequent studio albums that all placed highly in the UK album charts and won a devoted following all around the world. A tour was arranged for Spring 2020 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the debut album, but was twice rescheduled due to pandemic restrictions. Tonight it finally reaches the iconic De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, and it’s time to dig out the tickets that have been languishing in a drawer for the past couple of years.
Support tonight comes from Salt Ashes, the vehicle for singer Veiga Sanchez, who has been steadily making a name for herself with her own brand of dark-pop. The production on her recorded output is very much in the contemporary style, predominantly electronic, with heavily processed vocals. For live work though, she is backed by two black-clad musicians. A drummer, and a bass player who doubles on keyboard, add a more organic feel and an immediacy that is probably more accessible to those attending a Goldfrapp show.
Veiga is a dynamic and engaging performer, and looks very stylish. Her outfit is a pick-and-mix of different retro fashions, with huge shoulders on a fitted black jacket, teamed with flared tiger-stripe trousers and big platform boots. She has a small Akai controller on a stand, and two microphones. Her radio mic seems to have a drier signal, with another cabled microphone that swathes her voice in chorus and long delay, or adds processed harmonies. She stalks the stage, grooving to the powerful drumming, pulling cool shapes and dropping into deep squats. I rather like the tumbling vocal melody on ‘Love Love’, and recent single ‘Body Says’ packs a powerful message about sexual politics. There’s a spare floor tom with a set of beaters, which gets energetically pounded by the singer in the number’s wonderfully dramatic climax. ‘Whatever You Want Me To Be’ is slower and moodier, though builds to a lively vocal workout.
The house lights go up for the obligatory selfie with the crowd, de rigueur for the modern social-media-focused artist. We all wave obligingly. ‘Never Be Wrong’ starts slowly and dreamily, with its rhythm picked out with rim clicks by the drummer, before building to another powerful crescendo with the singer again pounding on the spare floor tom. It looks and sounds spectacular. Final number ‘Lucy’ is delivered with a mic in each hand, utilising the effects-heavy line for soaring sustained notes over an insistent keyboard riff. Whilst this style of music is not really my thing, I can appreciate the quality of the performance, and hopefully this tour support will help bring Salt Ashes to a wider audience.
Salt Ashes setlist:
‘If You Let Me Go’, ‘Too Many Times’, ‘Cut You With A Kiss’, ‘Love, Love’, ‘Body Says’, ‘Whatever You Want Me To Be’, ‘Save It’, ‘Go All Out’, ‘Never Be Wrong’, ‘Lucy’
Doubtless most tickets for tonight’s event were sold before the pandemic, and it seems noticeably more crowded in the hall than for other recent “sold out” shows. The cheer that erupts as Goldfrapp take the stage is absolutely massive. Alison is centre stage, clad in black with a long sheer cloak with ruffled black lace shoulders. She utilises the twin mic set up we saw with the support act, with one line drenched in effects. House left is a keyboard player, Hazel Mills, in a long black dress with stylishly flared sleeves. Seated behind her is a four-piece string section, the Q Strings, with violins and cello. House right are bassist Charlie Jones and guitarist Alex Lee, both familiar from previous tours, and drummer Seb Sternberg completes the lineup. Will Gregory is rarely seen on stage with the band, and tends to supervise the front of house sound from the mixing desk area.
Title track ‘Felt Mountain’, which opens the set, comes some way into the collection being celebrated, so we are clearly not going through the album in order. The sound is lush and full, with a dreamily lilting vocal line wafting over gently building waves of strings. Big washes of blue and purple light illuminate proceedings. A keyboard figure with a vibey harpsichord sound introduces the superb ‘Paper Bag’, and an enormous star curtain lights up at the back of the stage. The arrangement, with gently sweeping legato strings, is reminiscent of classic film soundtracks by the likes of John Barry and Roy Budd. The overall effect is expansive, soothingly relaxing, and extremely enjoyable.
We float on through more numbers from the debut album. The eerie synthesised whistle of ‘Pilots’ takes us into ‘Deer Stop’, whose gently descending bass meanders into a striking section of falsetto vocal. ‘Human’ builds with an encroaching air of menace, the big string sweeps urgently punctuated by sudden electronic stabs and thundering toms, as a piercing white strobe flashes dramatically over a red background wash. It’s stunning, both as a piece of music and as a visual spectacle.
‘Hairy Trees’, one of the mellower tracks from ‘Black Cherry’ introduces a digression from the debut album, and we’re treated to a rendition of the gorgeous ‘Road To Somewhere’ from ‘Seventh Tree’. We stay on the same album for ‘Eat Yourself’, its quavering intro picked out on acoustic guitar. It’s dreamily ethereal and rather lovely. ‘Moon In Your Mouth’, from most recent album ‘Silver Eye’ is introduced by Alison as “an ode to desire… and longing… and anyone who has left this world too soon.” Her breathy vocal wafts over an accompaniment of juddering low end.
Alison confides that she has been having problems with her voice, and she has a glass of water and a box of tissues on a tiny table by the keyboard. I must admit I wouldn’t have noticed if she hadn’t told us. ‘You Never Know’ from ‘Supernature’, my personal favourite album, sounds as silkily gorgeous as ever. At the end of ‘Black Cherry’, Alison introduces her fellow performers.
We return to ‘Felt Mountain’ for the soaring magnificence of ‘Utopia’, a sublime cinematic sweep of epic scale. I am transported to a state of utter bliss. The main set concludes with ‘Lovely Head’, also from the first album and the debut single as well. The roaring approval and thunderous applause leave little doubt that there will be encores.
There’s more to Goldfrapp than lush soundscapes, and Alison’s sultry voice adds a luxurious eroticism to the more upbeat and insistent dance-oriented tracks that have provided commercial success over the years. I’ve really enjoyed the dreamy songs tonight, but I’m ready for a dance now. That’s just what we get, opening with the ludicrously catchy and repetitive riff and vocal line of ‘Anymore’, a standout track from ‘Silver Eye’. There’s an extended playout to the gorgeously sensual ‘Ride A White Horse’, and the anthemic ‘Strict Machine’ elevates the mood in the room to something approaching ecstatic delirium. It’s a triumphant finale to a supremely enjoyable evening’s entertainment. This show was a very long time coming, but was well worth the wait.
‘Felt Mountain’ (from ‘Felt Mountain’ 2000)
‘Paper Bag’ (from ‘Felt Mountain’ 2000)
‘Pilots’ (from ‘Felt Mountain’ 2000)
‘Deer Stop’ (from ‘Felt Mountain’ 2000)
‘Human’ (from ‘Felt Mountain’ 2000)
‘Hairy Trees’ (from ‘Black Cherry’ 2003)
‘Road To Somewhere’ (from ‘Seventh Tree’ 2008)
‘Eat Yourself’ (from ‘Seventh Tree’ 2008)
‘Moon In Your Mouth’ (from ‘Silver Eye’ 2017)
‘You Never Know’ (from ‘Supernature’ 2005)
‘Black Cherry’ (from ‘Black Cherry’ 2003)
‘Utopia’ (from ‘Felt Mountain’ 2000)
‘Lovely Head’ (from ‘Felt Mountain’ 2000)
‘Anymore’ (from ‘Silver Eye’ 2017)
‘Ride A White Horse’ (from ‘Supernature’ 2005)
‘Strict Machine’ (from ‘Black Cherry’ 2003)