Live Review: London Grammar w/ Highasakite at Neumos 3/29/14

Live Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra
all photos by Dave Lichterman

It's no surprise that British downtempo pop group London Grammar sold out their second Seattle show in six months Saturday night. Back when they played the Crocodile at the end of September, their excellent first full length If You Wait had just come out only weeks before in the states. Now that it has had time to simmer and sink into the heart and soul of their growing fanbase, a bigger venue and an ecstatic crowd seemed only natural. All they hype is well deserved though. This three piece writes some incredible music, whose naked, raw beauty is only seen with more intensity on the live stage. Together with a really fantastic opening set from Norwegian indie-pop group Highasakite, London Grammar stole the night once again.Highasakite have had a pretty meteoric rise to success in Norway over the past couple years. 2012 saw the band release their first LP All That Floats Will Rain, while the new record Silent Treatment clocked in at the top of the Norwegian album charts upon debut (it's available here in the states next week on April 8). The band has some great tunes, but their live show is what they've become famous for. Among others, Justin Vernon invited the group to tour with Bon Iver after seeing them live and finding his jaw on the floor. But the band needs no big name endorsement to wow a crowd of any size. Already pretty packed out at 9pm, the Neumos crowd saw their amazement rise as the tunes went on. Starting with the highly melodic "Lover, Where Do You Live?" and moving through new singles like "Leaving No Traces", "Since Last Wednesday", "Hiroshima", and "Darth Vader", Highasakite won over heart after heart with ease. The band's sound presents a unique and interesting take on indie pop and folk rock, mixing the sounds of Lykke Li with Florence and the Machine and the xx. The result sees lead singer Ingrid Helene Havik belting out impassioned line after line, sometimes harmonizing with keyboardists Oystein Skar or Marte Eberson, always riding their wave of synthesized brilliance in perfect balance. Drummer Trond Bersu provides the heartbeat while Kristoffer Lo adds additional skeletal structure on guitar and additional percussion. This Seattle show may have marked the end of Highasakite's time with London Grammar, but the band could not have gone out with more of a bang. More than a couple in the audience will be keeping their eye out for Silent Treatment once it drops next week.


London Grammar's newest Seattle date comes on the back end of a tour centered around an appearance at SXSW. The last couple months have seen fantastic success for London Grammar. The record continues to sell well in the United States and the band got a spot for the new season of Game of Thrones with a fantastic cover of INXS track "Devil Inside". Back in September, muted pink light obscured Hannah Reid's face as she sung opener "Hey Now", while keyboardist/drummer Dot Major and guitarist Dan Rothman remained almost completely in the dark. The choice made perfect sense, though - the band's powerfully emotive tracks beg for the sanctuary of night in a time of solitude and reflection. But now that London Grammar have more than a few fans to share the feeling with, tonight we got to see another side of the band. Namely, the one that shines in front of us clear as daylight.

Dozens upon dozens of shows in the past couple months have done miracles for the band's confidence and presence on stage. Reid is a commanding and powerful frontwoman, even without ever once moving from the mic stand during a song. Meanwhile, Major and Rothman telepathically communicate to keep every track as silky and organic as possible. Reid's vocal prowess only grows with time. "Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me" could find any lover crawling back with as much apology as can be rendered. Reid's take on Kavinsky's "Nighcall" is still as intense as ever, replacing the spacey robot vocals of the original with a rapturous soul narrative. It's truly incredible that she's able to maintain her voice night after night. Even here tonight after weeks on the road, it seems like the first night of the tour. That's a great card to have in your deck.

After a divine take on "Flickers", Reid exited the stage temporarily to let Major and Rothman "have a jam", in their own words. The result was a splendid surprise. It's nice to Rothman's guitar style develop into its own sound. A far cry from the driving downbeats of the xx, Rothman hosts a subtle blues style, never ripping into anything too lustily, but maintaining a sensuality and a fervor that gives his style a really nice signature. Meanwhile, Major is only getting better at managing the multitude of sounds he's in charge of. The post-"Flickers" jam was a bass-heavy MPC fest, seeing his atypically gentle style drop into something grittier. The variety he's pursuing from a production standpoint will only bode well for the young band in the future.

Altogether, London Grammar's Seattle return was a fantastic evening. The band closed the evening with a powerful take on "Metal & Dust", ending with Major throwing down on the drums accompanied by strobe lights and bright colors all around. Reid smiled wryly over at Rothman a few times during the explosive break - after all, it is a bit much, no matter how much it fits. The band is definitely still getting used to rock star status, and the presence it takes to communicate rock stardom to an audience is an unnatural thing for some. But London Grammar seem to be doing fine, and seeing the progression they've made in only a few months, there's no doubt that the next card up their sleeve will be another great one. Here's to one of our favorite new faces on the scene and their success going forward.

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