Warpaint at Vicar Street, Dublin, on 26 March, 2017
Los Angeles quartet Warpaint are back in town in support of their third LP, 2016’s ‘Heads Up’. The album is a lot looser and more playful than its overworked and quite serious predecessor. This time around Warpaint have shaken up the writing process to make it a lot more organic and natural. It shows, and the album doesn’t sound like it’s overthinking things as it bounces from one idea to the next.
In a live setting, Warpaint is a different proposition. Catch them at a festival and you can bank on being let down. The quick turnaround times and lack of a thorough soundcheck often hinders the band’s very particular sound. Thankfully tonight, this isn’t the case.
Playing in Vicar Street, we see Warpaint looking refreshed, invigorated and firing on all cylinders. Taking to the stage to the sampled synth loop that opens their second record, the band form a 2-2 formation. Guitarists and dual lead vocalists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman occupy the front of the stage with Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa hanging back on bass and drums.
Opening with the title track from ‘Heads Up’, what is immediately apparent is the level of skill behind the kit from Australian Mozgawa. She brushes off the trickiest of beats with an effortless ease whilst giving the kit a serious beating. As the bouncy Heads Up comes to a close our two guitarists are slowly deconstructing their parts to build them back up into the hazy Krimson, from their 2009 ‘Exquisite Corpse’. This is a level of musical prowess we’ve never seen from Warpaint before.
Undertow makes a surprisingly early appearance, but it’s well placed. The opening riff alone elicits a variety of cheers from the Dublin crowd and gets everyone on board at this early stage. Kokal loses her guitar for a relaxed performance of one of their biggest hits. As we’re brought through Undertow‘s meandering arrangement the band are bathed in washes of pink, blue and violet light. When coupled with the various fairy lit plants dotted around the stage it’s clear that more thought has been put into this production than previous Irish shows.
By the time we get to Dre it’s clear that the sound is also immaculate. Vocal lines trail off in a cavern of reverb as sampled kick drums fill the room with satisfying booms. The benefit of a decent soundcheck eh?
Bees, Above Control and No Way Out all follow in swift succession, not leaving much room for the pace to drop. Our Aussie powerhouse is beefing up every song tonight. Everything that’s played has a newly found muscular heft behind it that’s not present on any of the studio recordings.
The zig-zagging Beetles showcases everything that’s great about Warpaint in 2017. The often-questionable live vocal performances from years gone by are no more. They’ve been replaced with some very strong performances from Kokal, with some goofy dancing to boot. We’d also put money on tonight’s lighting designer having heard these songs before. With so many sharp turns thrown into this one song alone, there’s no way they’re winging it. We jump from various blasts of colour to complete darkness through the winding maze of one of Warpaint’s best (and longest) songs.
“If it wasn’t for Irish pop music, I wouldn’t be a musician” proclaims Kokal after an acapella stab at Kiss From a Rose. We’re struggling to see the Irish connection before she goes on to preface New Song by telling us it’s “only slightly as good as that song”. When coupled with closing track Disco//Very we’re left with a version of Warpaint that would have been unimaginable after their first record, a fun version of Warpaint. Loose, effortless and fun, this closing combo ensures everyone leaves the venue with a pep in their step.