Playing their first London show in six years, Chromatics further perpetuated their enigmatic reputation with a striking display of their expertly crafted sonic and aesthetic world at the Roundhouse last Sunday.
To many, Chromatics are more than a band; they’re a complete musical universe, located at the intersection of Italo disco, post-punk and film noir. That they blended in so beautifully at the Roadhouse during their cameos in the 2017 Twin Peaks reboot is thanks in part to this distinct aesthetic, but also to the air of mystery that Johnny Jewel and co have quietly cultivated this past decade and a half.
Since wrapping up touring commitments for 2012’s Kill For Love, the Portland group’s movements have been largely shrouded in secrecy, with them reportedly hard at work on the follow-up, Dear Tommy. Five years and a string of singles later, that record has been shelved indefinitely, with October’s album Closer To Grey released in its place.
If anyone was naive enough to turn up to the Roundhouse expecting to hear the truth about these wilderness years, they leave disappointed. Nor do we hear any songs from Closer To Grey for that matter. Instead, tonight the quartet use their first London show in six years to further expand the band’s mythology, presenting a nostalgic set that’s as sumptuous visually as it is musically.
Even before the band appear, three giant video screens transport us to Chromatics’ twilight world, displaying a slideshow that intersperses stark photography and album art with highly-stylised, 70s-inspired, mock advertisements and film posters, complete with hammy slogans like “Love for when life gets too real.” A digital countdown signals the start of the show, and the band emerge from the shadows, silhouetted against the red strip lighting throughout a blistering version of ‘Lady’.
Almost seamlessly they launch into ‘Kill For Love’, which is evocative of New Order at their most romantic, but boasts Ruth Radelet’s ethereal coos rather than Bernard Sumner’s divisive drawl. Radelet is a revelation tonight, switching between bass, guitar and synths, and contributing the feather-light vocals that imbue the swooning dream-pop of ‘Cherry’ and ‘Shadow’ with a palpable sense of longing. That atmosphere of yearning feels most acute during the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’, which she despatches solo, drenched in tremolo guitar. Jewel later describes her as “the reason we’re all here”, and Radelet returns the favour, dubbing Jewel both, “One of my oldest friends,” and, “A man of mystery.”
The Italians Do It Better boss does little to disprove the latter tag tonight, gliding wordlessly between instruments to embellish ‘These Streets Will Never Look the Same’ with shards of distorted synth or to add a haunting piano outro to ‘Into The Black.’ Despite all the opulent and disorientating visuals projected behind the band, you find your eye repeatedly drawn to Jewel, as the enigmatic architect of Chromatics’ universe. And it’s telling that, when he eventually returns for the encore, he’s the last to appear and he emerges from the front of the stage, much to everyone’s surprise. “You gotta keep these guys on their toes,” he laughs, and you’re unsure if he’s referring to the rest of the band or us. Either way, mission accomplished.