It’s been a big and busy 12 months for Aldous Harding, topped off with a top 10 placing in Mojo magazine’s canonical ‘Albums of the Year’ list.
Critically Harding’s year has been one of polarised opinions – accolades for her second solo album, the avant-folk ‘Party’, then praise mixed with often bewildering criticism for her performance style.
With this, plus two 2017 NZ Music Awards Tuis, as the backdrop to her recent sell-out tour around NZ, Harding’s Dunedin’s show (at the Glenroy Auditorium on November 29) had an audience hanging off her every note and syllable, absolutely rapt.
Make no mistake, Harding is not your conventional performer, imbuing her shows with affectation, stillness, and gesture, and her voice is a beguiling instrument, hypnotic and magnetic, a good foil for her unassuming stage presence. Harding is arresting onstage, her emotive gestures and poses at once awkward and assured, although there is something in the tilt of her head, and the gaze at the crowd that gives the sense she is in complete control.
The songs from ‘Party’ are the drawcards, with Horizon as the devastating centrepiece, although Blend, Imagining My Man, and Party continue the bare and confronting performance.
However, Living The Classics presents a more conventional folk style, almost limpid, with a fluid finger-picked guitar accompaniment. When only Harding and a guitar, the performance was entrancing – sparse and still, at times bordering on desolate, while her stripped back band, with no florid embellishments and a strong rhythmic feel, drive the songs that require a fuller sound.
The final song, a new one titled Pilots again finds her working with different tones, a piano ballad where the melody hangs over the chords. ‘There is no end to the madness I feel’ she sings, and we believe her.
Martin Phillipps as support to Harding proved he is no slouch either. Without the backing of The Chills, his songs are at their barest, revealing subtle nuances.
Classics like Wet Blanket, Pink Frost, and Submarine Bells (performed for the first time in a stripped back version) are simple and beautiful in their simplicity, while new songs Easy Peasy and Deep Relief (hopefully headed for a new Chills album) stand up well in his canon.
Rarities like The Entertainer and Streets Of Forgotten Cool also got an airing, the latter dedicated to the late Celia Mancini, while the audience was so quiet during the former you could hear a pin drop.
Phillipps was in fine voice, and his set again showed his music is potent with or without a full band arrangement.