Photo credit: Simon Witter.
The Lantern is Colston Hall’s most intimate space, tucked away to one side and a far cry from the grandiosity of the main hall (which tonight is host to Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark of all people). So, while the new-wavers are discussing Architecture and Morality, a diverse but thin on the ground group gather around the stage in the Lantern. The whole place smells of stale wine and countless jazz shows have made their mark on the carpets. Seeing synths and mixing boards on stage looks a little unconventional, and thankfully opening act Happy Meals are content to wave off the conventional and embrace the weirder side of electronic music.
The male/female duo walk on to a slightly uncomfortable silence, no fanfare they just emerge from the curtains side of stage and it take the audience a minute to realise they’re on. As the first song builds up from a skeletal electronic drum beat however, there’s no way you can ignore the pulsing noise and VCR styled projections on the stage. The pair play solidly for thirty five minutes, each musical ‘phase’ moving without delay from one to the next. The music itself blends acid and hard house, disco grooves with dangerously funky sub-bass riffs and the Euro-techno of Soulwax and Daft Punk; it’s slickly performed, the duo seemingly telepathically linked at times, and the perfect warm up for the slowly growing audience. By the close of the set, the female ‘vocalist’- barefoot and slinking across the apron like an amalgam of Kate Bush and Grace Slick- is weaving and dancing through the crowd, taking full advantage of the room’s lack of barriers or security. As she returns to the desk and the last phase climaxes, the beat veers close to gabber as the beat ratchets up and the pair sound like they’re about to teleport away to another planet. As suddenly as they appeared they swiftly disappear. One down, one big one still to go.
Liars, knowing how renowned they’ve become for their live performances, make the audience wait before launching into their opening number. New touring additions (a drummer and guitarist/synth player) stride onstage, followed by vocalist and mastermind of the whole operation Angus Andrew, dressed as he has been for most of this tour in the same wedding skirt and veil he sports on the cover of Liars’ latest album, TFCF. The slow ethereal synths of opening track Drum Gets a Glimpse betrays the softer side to the band’s music, as the audience shuffle closer to the stage and Andrew leans out over the many faces below. If there’s one thing the trio do best, it’s letting their music do the talking. If the opening track is an inviting gesture, then follow up and single from TFCF Coins in my Caged Fist is a violent shove. Just as they do on record, Liars find a perfect balance between the light and the dark throughout their lean setlist. From the doom-surf guitars and rumbling synths of Scarecrows on a Killer Slant, to Houseclouds’ swaggering drums and ending mantra of ‘I won’t be gone, we’ve just begun’, shouted by Andrew just as loudly as the crowd shout back. Then Mess on a Mission, a breakout hit from 2014, provides the biggest dance break of the night so far; the thrilling crunch of the chorus sending those of us at the front into a frenzy. Technically, the band exude energy and remain locked in for the whole set. While Andrew shudders and gesticulates across the stage, the drummer pulls of his shirt before the war marching heft of It Fit when I was a Kid and the resident guitar player tears through chainsaw guitar riffs on the closing double whammy of Brats and the Overachievers.
Even as the encore is indulged by the band, Andrew now re-veiled as he comes back on, it’s clear the audience could happily dance their way through another hour of Liars with pleasure. New single Staring at Zero builds stunningly into one of the band’s oldest tracks, Broken Witch, an off-kilter, pitch black dancefloor destroyer that concludes with Andrew slurring ‘Blood! Blood! Blood…’ as the music shrinks into a black hole underneath him. Proof if ever that Liars are like a Great White shark: powerful, alluring, and dangerous. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the disco…