Alison Goldfrapp has a cold. In between songs she takes sips of a restorative drink and wipes away a few snuffles. But she still looks striking, with demure kohl-rimmed eyes and flowing black gown. Her look brings to mind a silent film star — think Clara Bow — which reflects the cinematic flourishes in much of her band’s music.
Nor does her below-par health seem to have overly affected her gossamer falsetto as it soars over a rapt crowd of 6 Music ticket winners in the intimate surroundings of studio 3 at BBC Maida Vale. They’re the lucky 200 who saw off competition of 6,000 to get a chance to see their heroes perform, and they’ve travelled from around the UK to get here with some taking a cheeky day of work, feeling “ill”.
It could have been anyone’s guess as to what combination of musicians would be on stage – in reality just an area marked off from the audience by a white line marked on the floor – as their recent gigs to launch the latest album Tales of Us featured a complete orchestra, but the black-clad four-piece band, plus string section, fitted the space perfectly.
The moment the first notes of the beautifully hypnotic Clowns were picked out on acoustic guitar the audience melted in the band’s velvet-gloved grip and it was obvious this was going to be a set from the gentler side of Goldfrapp’s oeuvre. No Strict Machine or Ooh La La here.
Annabel, a subtle, guitar-picked torch song from Tales of Us, continues the silent film theme as it transports you to a 1920s Paris nightclub, with Alison wringing out the emotion.
Despite featuring music from across five albums (debut Felt Mountain, Supernature, The Singles, Seventh Tree and Tales of Us) the set is adroitly drawn with a cohesive sound flowing and expanding across the seven songs.
Mostly this is down to Alison’s enchanting vocals, though I can’t have been the only one to drawn a comparison between the whistled chorus of new song Stranger and the theremin theme of the rousing fan favourite set-closer Lovely Head.
Elsewhere, the gap between the more acoustic first half of the set and the electronica of the second is bridged neatly by the conjunction of the thumping climax to the mandolin-led Alvar from Tales of Us and the crunching, squelching You Never Know.
The second half also sees the reclusive musical Wizard of Oz, Will Gregory, emerge from behind his screen to join his partner on stage – crouched over an analogue synth, impishly twiddling knobs to alter Alison’s voice as she talks between tracks.
As the set builds towards a climax, the lucky audience members are treated to an emotional Yellow Halo, the first time it has ever been played live. Though whether or not the emotions are due to problems with the level of Alison’s mic is hard to tell.
At other times the vocals do get lost somewhat amid the lush instrumentation, but that does not detract from a truly spellbinding set.
Alison announced that the band would be touring a similarly stripped down set early next year, and on the evidence of this session I’ll be first in line for tickets. A triumph.
Clowns (Seventh Tree)
Annabel (Tales of Us)
Stranger (Tales of Us)
Alvar (Tales of Us)
You Never Know (Supernature)
Yellow Halo – (The Singles)
Lovely Head – (Felt Mountain)
Listen again here or watch highlights here