Hammersmith Apollo – March 26
Note to all American bands: the jokes about waving to the ‘Queen of England’ at your gig and about Her Majesty being ‘a big fan’ of your band are not so funny. When Warpaint’s guitarist and singer Theresa Wayman tried it out on Thursday night, it was met with audible groans by the packed Apollo. But luckily for the four-strong Los Angeles band, it was the only misstep of the evening.
Well, almost. Not long after, Wayman took a wayward tumble returning to the stage after jumping into the front row of the crowd and letting fans sing along. Slipping on her way back to her guitar she hit the deck – jumping back up to pronounce: “I thought I was pretty cool there for a minute,” with bashful humility.
Let’s not be too hard on the band. They’ve spent the last 18 months touring their self-titled second album around the world. And ironically it’s also taken them that long to appear in the West London home of their record label, Rough Trade. However, the youthful foursome showed no sign of road weariness on the final night of their gruelling tour. Instead, they were totally fired up for their final gig.
Throughout their 15-song set, they kept the energy high by bounding around on the cavernous Apollo stage. Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg never let up rocking her Rickenbacker around – strutting, popping and bobbing her head – while the slinky Wayman and Emily Kokal shared the bulk of the singing and guitar duties in effortless style.
Yet despite the energy, the band looked tiny on the Apollo stage, lost in a sea of empty space and let down by the static backdrop shot of their album cover and two paltry strings of hanging lanterns on each side. No matter how much they tried, they lacked the stage presence to make the Apollo seem intimate. And when they tackled some of the quieter songs on the night – especially the cringeworthy encore of ‘Son’, complete with keyboard – they looked out of their depth as Liondberg and Kokal crouched next to each other on the stage.
However, close your eyes and the gig had a much different complexion. Warpaint can play. There was hardly a fluffed note on the night and their respective instruments and adventurous four-part harmonies were also spot on. Each of them can play and sing – but it was drummer Stella Mozgawa who stole the show with her arsenal of slick licks and tasty fills. No matter where the song went, she provided unflustered support and let her bandmate’s spiky guitar attacks shine as she ploughed on. Whether it was an off-beat romp or a double-time stomp, she was the most composed and dynamic musician in the band and brought each song to life.
‘Undertow’ was an early shout for the group. Hailing from their 2010 debut, The Fool, it set a high standard for the gig with its eerie line: “Now I’ve got you in the undertow,” that got the evening into full swing.
By the time ‘Love is to Die’ was unveiled, it was clear the ladies were up for a party. “You wanna go wild,” Wayman enquired? Well, she did at least, and that’s when she made her impromptu leap from the stage into the front row, surrendering the microphone as fans sang along: “Got to give in/ Got to give in/ Learn to let go/ Learn to let go…”
After a dozen songs, they disappeared, only to return to the under-cooked keyboard/guitar version of ‘Son’, which was thankfully followed by their impressive new song ‘No Way Out’ and a rollicking ‘Burgundy/Krimson’ to send the crowd home happy and upbeat. Seeing that 18 months have passed since their album and with two new songs already under their belt, the Apollo gig was so long in coming that it felt like it captured a band in the midst of a transition. But given their swelling fanbase and evolution to playing in bigger venues, it’s clear that no matter how menacing the women of Warpaint are as musicians they desperately need to add another dimension to their live show.
No Way Out
Love is to Die
Keep it Healthy
I’ll Start Believing