Common knowledge teaches us that live bands should pander to their audience, rarely deviate from the well-known and project themselves in a manner only slightly more grandiose than that of a performing circus animal. The less risk, the better. All killer, no filler.
Warpaint, however, do nothing of the sort. You get the inclination seeing them play that they’d much rather not have to address the audience and just crack on ‘jamming’ amongst friends. Several times in unison they turn their back on those watching to surround the high-rise drum, choreography clearly far from a concern.
By rights, it shouldn’t work. Live performances are supposed to make you feel inclusive, but the distance you feel from the band makes the experience feel borderline voyeuristic. Their undeniably awkward turn-by-turn attempts at engaging their public shouldn’t be endearing, but it is.
Here’s the thing though: all of the awkwardness, the distance, the coldness and initial confusion goes out of the window the second they start playing. With a rhythm section that possesses you from the waist down with all of the force of an old Motown outfit, you can’t help but be mesmerised by the musicianship on show.
Trading instruments, vocals and centre-stage throughout the gig, they perform renditions of songs that appear to change from night-to-night, inserting riffs and extending songs whenever the mood took them. In a venue that isn’t quite full, Warpaint still manage to give the impression that they’ve filled it, the crowd inching closer with every song like a game of “What's the time, Mr Wolf?” en-masse.
Apparently playing what is known as dance rock, their sound has always struck me like what would happen if Jamie xx produced a Laura Marling record. Lo-fi infectious rhythms spliced together with enough world weary lyrics to fill a dedicated fuckyeahWarpaintlyrics Tumblr page.
Self aware as I am, I knew I’d be won over by Warpaint before I’d even set foot in the venue. For that reason, and in the interest of balance, I took a friend along who had one afternoon to listen to them on Spotify and openly asked me at one point if they were “a bit like that Pussy Riot thing?”.
He was in his own words both impressed and confused, and found himself more interested by some songs more than others. Over a pint afterwards and various attempts to hum tunes from the gig, it became clear that Undertow, Disco//Very and Love Is To Die had stuck in his mind much more strongly than the others.
He was, surprisingly to me at least, completely right about the best songs on the night. ‘Undertow’, a staple from the first 2010 record ‘The Fool’ was the most rousing number of the night, prompting a hushed sing-along and ending to applause and cheers that seemed somewhat out of place given the existing atmosphere.
‘Love Is To Die’ was the first single from the recently released self-titled second record, and juxtaposes somewhat morbidly romantic lyrics such as “I’m not alive / I’m not alive without you” with some of the most playful bass imaginable, which is a trick oft repeated throughout the new album.
The stand out song though, both live and committed to tape, is ‘Disco//Very’, which has an injection of energy and pace that stands out like a sore thumb. Perhaps the most obviously dance influenced song they’ve ever released, the opening line almost sums it up perfectly, stating “I've got a friend with a melody that will kill” with a matching hook that’s guaranteed to get trapped in your head for days.
Accidentally endearingly as they may be, you can’t help but enjoy what Warpaint create live. Their sound lends itself awkwardly to the live environment: it’s not dance enough to be danced along to, and it isn’t brashly rocky enough to promote rubbing shoulders with strangers in the dark, but everyone will eventually manage to sway along in unison.
Follow Raj on Twitter, @BainsXIII