Purcell Room, Southbank Centre – April 3rd
The Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre seems a strange place for a pop band to play a show. It’s a room usually reserved for small plays, spoken word poetry recitals and intimate classical performances. However, tonight, London via Kendal outfit Woman’s Hour perform their very own brand of chamber music here for the very first time.
Having walked in through the door that was opened in 2009 with the release of The XX’s debut, Woman’s Hour will attempt to carve out their own identity in 2014. The comparison, though, is easy: the black and white colour palette; the dark, brooding emotion; the sense of mystery and detachment between audience and performer.
Like The XX, Woman’s Hour let their music do the talking. From the outset, the connection between the four people on stage and the 250 people sitting in the Purcell Room is almost tangible.
The spatiality of new single ‘I Need You’ (which comes as part of a double A-side out now on Secretly Canadian Records) creates a pensive, yet hopeful atmosphere. Lead singer Fiona Jane Burgess’s hushed vocal is delivered with an earnest desperation as guitarist (and brother) William steps lightly on the delay pedal, adding warmth and texture. Josh Hunniset’s synthesisers build the tension before bringing the track to a compelling climax.
‘Her Ghost’, which makes up the second half the double A side, is driven by celestial guitar and a neo-Disco groove as Burgess coyly whispers, “I’ve got nothing to say to her ghost/ Hoping she’ll fade away.” It’s the most upbeat of Woman’s Hour’s tunes, but falls a little flat simply because of the recorded drum track.
Bravely, Woman’s Hour take on Bruce Springsteen’s colossal ‘Dancing In the Dark’ as Burgess morphs the powerhouse melody of the original into a beautiful beast that swirls around and above the audience. In this environment, performed in this way, the song takes on a whole new meaning. Woman’s Hour add their own sprinkling of reflective and aching melancholy to truly make this song theirs.
As the set progresses there are more nods to disco and 90’s pop, more attempts to evoke the nostalgia of the by-gone-era that Fleetwood Mac filled with tales of longing and heartbreak. However, ‘Two Sides Of You’ is lacking in real conviction and authenticity, leaving the audience feeling empty and cold. ‘To The End’, though, is a highlight of the evening. The groove on which the track sits is felt in the heart and the body as it slinks its way to a tender and uplifting close.
It’s evident that Woman’s Hour are holding tight to their pop-dance sensibilities. Refreshingly, though, ‘Conversations’ takes you lightly by the hand and leads you to the darker side of the dance floor. There’s a prowling bass-line and elegant guitar hook as Burgess purrs with a seductiveness that’s been missing from the majority of the set. ‘Our Love Has No Rhythm’ is similarly sultry and wouldn’t sound out of place on side 2 of Sade’s Diamond Life.