Accompanied by a huge stream of orchestral musicians and choral singers, UK Indie band Bastille played Colston Hall in a tour that included orchestral reworks of their back catalogue. Leila Mitwally reviews.
As I made my way into the buzzing main auditorium of Colston Hall with an overpriced gin and tonic in hand, I wasn't too sure what sort of gig to expect from Bastille. Frontman Dan Smith described the ReOrchestrated Tour as a complete reconstruction of the band's usual alternative-rock set using brass, strings and a gospel choir – a vibe which doesn't quite match up with the euphoric teenage parties I've seen the band host over the years.
The whole concept is based on a one-off charity gig the quartet performed at Union Chapel last year - which, in the name of transparency about my level of interest in this band, I admit I was also in attendance of. Nonetheless, I was interested to see how they would adapt such a unique, intimate setup for a near 2000-seat concert hall.
The first thing that strikes you in a concert like this is the wonderfully diverse audience. Though the hall wasn't quite full up when we shuffled in to find a space, this process was uncharacteristically easy. The panicked scuffle to get as close to the stage as humanly possible that my giddy 15-year-old self-experienced at Bastille gigs gone by was no more than a distant memory. Instead, we drifted through clusters of laid-back adults and families, with the band's slightly younger but unwaveringly dedicated fan base which once dominated the crowd now only making up the front few rows.
After support from Charlie Barnes, who tours as the band's guitarist but has just released an album in his own right, friends of Bastille: To Kill a King took to the stage. Their atmospheric set closed with a collaborative performance of ‘Choices' featuring Smith himself, who wandered unassumingly onto the stage in a hoodie and cap. The elevating singalong of the track's middle eight quickly caught on with the audience, many of whom struggled to contain their excitement at the premature appearance of their favourite front man.
When Bastille took to the stage again, accompanied by a huge stream of orchestral musicians and choral singers, they wasted no time in subverting the audience's expectations. In an extreme curveball, the set opened with the infamous ‘Pompeii' – which, despite being a song about corpses discussing the volcanic eruption which exterminated them, was the band's breakthrough single, earning them mainstream success back in 2013.
You'd be forgiven for not realizing this immediately, however, as the song was completely stripped of its usual catchy vocal riff and heavy percussion and instead performed entirely acapella with Smith's soaring vocals gliding above the silky harmonies of the gospel choir. This prompted one of my friends to exclaim: "he sounds EXACTLY the same live as in the recordings!" This is not the first time I've heard this said about Smith's live performances.
After an impressive opening, the band launched into the newer, more heavily orchestrated tracks ‘Snakes' and ‘Warmth' from their second album, Wild World to get things started. Despite wondering exactly how a standing crowd would work with an orchestral concert, my concerns were immediately dispelled. It quickly became clear that "ReOrchestrated" did not mean "slowed down," as within minutes the entire crowd was bouncing.
Their next song, ‘No Angels' was a resounding crowd pleaser, transporting long-time Bastille fans back to the band's early years. Taken from the second of their earlier, more experimental mixtapes (Other People's Heartache Pt. II), the track is a mashup of TLC's ‘No Scrubs' and The XX's ‘Angels', and serves as a prime example of the band's extraordinary ability to completely transform a well-established song and claim it for their own – more of which can be found through a quick YouTube search of literally any of the Radio 1 Live Lounge covers they've done over the years.
Smith jokes about the audience's slim chances of getting hold of the mixtape ("if you want it you can get it illegally online somewhere") in his characteristically awkward yet genuine manner which proves to be a big part of his overall appeal. After playing reimagined versions of older originals ‘Icarus' and ‘Laughter Lines,' he acknowledges this awkward stage-presence himself: confessing he's "quite bad at the talking." Based on the supportive cheer this receives from the audience, it's glaringly obvious that they do not care.
The night's 24-piece set covered a good majority of Bastille's seven-year discography, featuring more of the so-called "classics" from their 2013 debut album, Bad Blood. Instead of holding these back and prioritizing recent releases, they delivered alternatively arranged versions of ‘Things We Lost In The Fire' and ‘Of The Night', the latter of which saw the 90s dance mashup disguised among intricate brass and string scores.
The band's acapella arrangement of their first ever single release, ‘Flaws', was a personal favorite of the night, as the entire auditorium rang out every word over the tight harmonies of the gospel choir and Smith's flawless vocal line. If I closed my eyes, I was right back in my bedroom revising for my GCSEs. In all honesty, this was a little disconcerting when coupled with the number of gin and tonics in my system, but an impressive effect nonetheless.
Explaining that the two were friends at university, Smith reintroduces To Kill A King front man Ralph Pellymounter to the stage, to perform an unreleased track from the pair's side-project ‘Annie Oakley Hanging.' The song – ‘Chapter 7' – despite its morbid subject (a hanging lover) is utterly captivating, as the pair stand-alone harmonizing to the accompaniment of Pellymounter's guitar. As a concept which has been teased at with fans for some time, this performance was met with extreme levels of excitement from the first few rows of the crowd.
As the band prepared to leave the stage for what was obviously a short interlude followed by an encore, Smith once again demonstrated his ability to cut through the usual pretensions of showmanship with his uniquely enchanting stage-presence, explaining: ‘this will be our "last song", except it's all a fucking joke because we'll just go off for a bit and then come back on to do more songs'. The casually sincere way that he interacts with the audience amplifies all the quirks and subtleties of the show as a whole, while the discrepancy between his self-conscious speeches and faultless melodic vocals add to this charm no end.
Expected to feature their opening hit, 'Pompeii,' the band's encore in fact closed with a track which didn't even make the cut of their debut LP, instead appearing only on the extended edition. Though you might think this strange, foolish even – the track itself, ‘Weight Of Living Pt. 1' proved the perfect vibe to leave with the audience as they reluctantly trickled out of the theatre. The long-requested fan favourite had never been performed live before the band's Union Chapel gig last year and might be the only Bastille song with consistently uplifting lyrics. Transparent as ever, Smith explains this himself, claiming that while every other song on the band's set list is ‘very depressing,' they felt it important to leave the crowd on a positive note.
Personal biases aside, the Reorchestrated set as a whole was unlike any other gig I've seen before. It's so easy to get swept up in awe of the band's successful combination of an intimate orchestral concert with the requirements of a mainstream national tour and forget the creativity and musicianship involved in the elaborate recreation of every single song they performed. In this case, it seems as though all the risks paid off.
Featured image: Facebook // Bastille
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