The convention is for musicians to open their set with an attention-grabbing, high-energy song to get the audience immediately on side. Aldous Harding is obviously not bothered about that.
Instead she opened with two somber slow ones, ‘I’m So Sorry’ and ‘Living the Classics’, both played on solo acoustic guitar, with Aldous seated low and partly obscured. Opening with a whisper was somehow more effective that opening with a bang, however. The crowd were reduced to silence as they listened intently to the meticulous finger-picking and enigmatic lyrics. And then, after an acoustic intro to Designer, the title track from her latest album, she stood up and the band came to life, like a light switch going on. Aldous instantly snapped into a rhythmic dance that no one else could pull off: eyes wide and staring, hands positioned as if holding invisible maracas. It’s weird and brilliant.
She may seem a little unhinged on stage, but she clearly knows exactly what she’s doing.
Aldous maintained an enigmatic silence through much of the set, which only seemed to intensify the cries of adoration from the audience, some of which were simply non-verbal noises of joy. Her biggest hit, ‘The Barrel’, came about midway and had the audience singing along to the beautiful nonsense of lines like ‘looks like a date is set / show the ferret to the egg’. At one point, after a minute or so of staring and looking away at the audience during a song, eliciting titters from the crowd, Aldous broke her no-banter policy and quipped ‘and some say I don’t have a sense of humour.’ She may seem a little unhinged on stage, but she clearly knows exactly what she’s doing. Of course, some man had to unnecessarily respond with ‘they do now!’, as though that kind of lame dad-banter was needed during such an otherworldly performance.
After rapturous pleas from the audience, Aldous opened an encore with ‘Imagining My Man’, another cryptic but moving ballad. Although the lyrics are vague, it is the closest Aldous gets to directness and emotional clarity, with the chorus line ‘you were right, love takes time’, and the visceral, pained feeling in her voice as she sings ‘I don’t have the answer.’ Aldous could have closed with a fan favourite like this one, but again she chooses to upend convention by leaving us with a new, rockier song, ‘Old Peel'. It seems perverse to end with a song that the audience has ever heard, but here it acts as an exciting glimpse at the future. It’s clear that Aldous is an artist who’s only just getting started.