It rains, the sound is bad and it’s full of scenesters. That’s the mantra of the increasingly vocal sector besmirching the name of outdoor gigs. A glance up at the soupy broth replacing the summer sky this evening, a part of you wants to agree and leave the oasis of Iveagh Gardens to see who’s playing the front bar in Whelans. But you don’t. You wait because this generation’s Bowie is here. Her and Danish support act Mew will seduce and electrify, your heart tells you. The rain will be an inconsequential spittle. There will be no place for that tedious “rain failed to dampen spirits” line here. And maybe, this time, you’ll be right.
It seems to be going to plan as Mew go about their business with all the efficiency and cleanliness you’d expect from four chiselled Scandinavians. Studio-quality renditions of ‘Am I Wry’, ‘Special’ and the helixing vocals of ‘The Zookeeper’s Boy’ all sound the result of a ‘play’ button somewhere backstage, they are so faithful. Alas, this is just a simple combination of good live mixing and hardened gig-fitness. It’s usually our preference to have the non-album colours come across in the live scenario but today it feels somehow fitting for these poppiest proponents of prog-rock.
As crowds go, Mew’s “small but attentive” lot are swelled by St Vincent’s “hipsterfied all-sorts”, many of whom are initially too cool to fully lose it when Annie Clark slinks on stage like the second coming of Ziggy Stardust. This doesn’t last, however, and it’s only a couple of songs in before they’ve been beguiled by Anni-B Parson’s android choreography, the insistent throb of Clark’s immaculate three piece backing band or the centrifugal force of the entire shebang – Clark herself.
Let’s take a moment to digest what we have before us because it’s a rare and exotic species indeed. The electro-pixie look of the 2014 leg of this tour has been ditched and in its wake comes something that is equal parts Joan Jett, Edward Scissorhands and Catwoman. There is an oozing, vampish sexual arsenal behind every footstep but it is when she’s in the throes of another crunching, unruly guitar workout or rolling down the rear-stage riser that you begin to suspect a proper enigma has crash-landed on earth.
Opener ‘Birth In Reverse’ is a robotic ballet of tick-tocking shimmies with guitarist/keyboardist Toko Yasuda. Clark is bathed in golds, purples and blues as she takes to the riser for the widescreen sway of ‘Prince Johnny’, and it is from up here, statuesque before the congregation, that ‘Cheerleader’’s languid climaxes see the air above the audience get punched. ‘Bring Me Your Loves’ shows off a guitar tone as distinctive as any Josh Homme or Jack White. Listen carefully and you’ll hear State and thousands of others sighing.
Yes, it’s been a splendid coup indeed for the outdoor concert experience. By the time of the encore, State has learned of a new-born child that was recently named after this goddess of cool. And there, up on the stage, we continue to watch entranced as Clark is wheeled out on a psychiatrist’s lounger for ‘The Party’. We hope they never find a cure for her.