Warpaint in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, on August 23rd 2016
The National Concert Hall has proven itself a fine complement to the rest of the traditional gig venues around Dublin, a place where you might catch a band you would only traditionally get to experience in somewhere like The Button Factory, or Vicar Street, or The Workman’s…you get the idea. From Spiritualized to Sun Kil Moon, Marc Almond to Lambchop, the selection has given performer and audience alike a different, if at times more sedate, experience than your workaday tour pit stop.
As a lone spot-lit keyboard stands on the darkened stage and Hilary Woods enters alone, there’s no indication that tonight will be any less laid back. Ambient noise rises as Woods straps on her guitar, accompanied by a backing track and visuals that set the mood to run into a baroque and pristine Bathing from her recent ‘Heartbox’ EP. When Woods eschews the guitar for the keyboard things seem a bit more direct, maybe a result of the more full-bodied keys locking into place. The mood is sombre throughout, seamlessly so, the tempo unwaveringly mellow as songs bleed gently into one another. So far, it’s just another nicely chilled out night on Earlsfort Terrace.
Seats weren’t long flying out of the box office when Warpaint were announced for this particular venue – certainly one of the more anticipated shows of recent months – and the usual safety announcement that precedes NCH shows goes largely ignored in the hum of conversation, a hum that becomes a roar as the band emerge; two guitars to the forefront, rhythm section on a riser behind them.
Elephant is an instant victory, as Theresa Wyman picks out the intro riff, bobbing towards Emily Kokal as her colleague takes the first of many startling vocal turns of the night. As she leaves her guitar aside for Undertow, Kokal suddenly acts as the centrifuge that the others gravitate toward, although in reality Warpaint is one of the most cohesively fluid onstage organisms – a sum of its parts with an effortless feel for one another’s playing.
“I know if one person stands up, everybody stands up” Kokal says, “we’ve never played for anybody sitting down.” Everybody in the audience unquestioningly stands up, and remains that way for the duration of the set – not a common occurrence in the National Concert Hall. With the room suddenly brought together that bit more, Wayman and Kokal swap lead vocals throughout the selection, the latter taking a seat on the riser for Composure, one of the night’s more grandiose ensemble performances.
It doesn’t hurt when you’ve got one of the best drummers around rattling the skins, and there’s an almost tangible magnetism that draws Stella Mozgawa and bassist Lindberg and toward one another, a lock-tight rhythm section. White Out, from their forthcoming third album ‘Heads Up’ sees a star turn from Mozgawa, channelling post-punk to a persistent smile from Lindberg, while an equally fresh and aptly named New Song elicits both a cheer and a groan of disappointment. “The time is really flying. We must be having fun” smiles Kokal, and sure enough the ensuing Disco//Very brings the set to a close.
An already upstanding crowd greet Kokal once more at the encore, entering alone for a more tender moment. “I don’t know where the rest of them are so I’ll just have to do one by myself“. Baby – one of Warpaint’s more affecting songs – segues into Because The Night and instantly becomes mesmeric, as Kokal’s vocal suddenly takes on a coarser texture, gradually softening with each line as the song comes to an end.
As the night closes on a more raucous note, it’s also on one of triumph. Warpaint took a mood already set by Woods earlier in the night and made an intimate room more intimate still, simultaneously managing to deliver a dance-y, powerful performance. This one was a real treat, hopefully far from the last of this kind of thing we see from the National Concert Hall.