When you’ve held a band with a certain indefinable affection your expectations are elevated with unattainable visions of perfection if the opportunity arises to see them live. Warpaint were that band for me, and have been for quite some time. The combination of hefty, layered arrangements, shouty vocals heard alongside their softer lullaby-like compositions was something that provided enough intrigue to experience them in a live setting. Having reformed after a brief hiatus to venture into solo endeavours (Jenny Lee released a solo album, Theresa formed supergroup BOSS, Emily lent her vocals to a folk informed soundtrack to an exited play, and Stella recorded with Kurt Vile) you could be forgiven for thinking that they would return to their music invigorated and refreshed. Unfortunately, the harmonious unity of expectation and reality are not so compatible.
As the female dominant audience settle into their seats in the National Concert Hall, an unusual venue choice for the gig, Hilary Woods sets the tone as the perfect complimentary support act for Warpaint. The filmic aspect of Woods’ meditative bass and synth led songs are accompanied by projected videos varying from tribal dancers to shots of nature and the music video for her current single, ‘Sabbath.’ Her performance is faultless, transitioning with ease between instruments and captivating the crowd with her melodic singing. The timing and rhythm of the music and video work well together, adding a rich artful element to her sound.
After a slight delay and a bizarrely awkward choice of entrance music Emily, Jenny, Theresa and Stella take their positions onstage, remaining close together throughout the entire set, and open with a song from their forthcoming third studio album, Heads Up. The chemistry between the band (glances and giggles bouncing amongst the foursome) and the enjoyment they get performing their songs (continuous dancing and constant use of the space on the stage) is evident and endearing throughout the show. Beneath the surface though, Warpaint are talented musicians – especially drummer, Stella Mozwaga. Their musical abilities and enthusiasm to be in front of a crowd carry them throughout the show.
The beginning of their set is made up of a lot of new material which seems to extend a slight disconnect between band and audience, and unfortunately, dilutes the effect that their most popular single, ‘Undertow’, has when it’s played second – a surprise to hear so early on in the proceedings. Before the third song, frontwoman Emily Kokal coyly suggests to the crowd that if one person stands everyone will which, of course, encourages the packed out venue to promptly stand for the duration of the show. This is more than a little irritating, especially when Warpaint’s music can be enjoyed in a more relaxed setting. And so, with an obedient standing crowd the band delve into their more recognised hits, ‘Composure’, ‘Keep It Healthy (which was given the full treatment of ‘Intro’ played beforehand), and ‘Love Is To Die.’
During these familiar hits the band take moments to improvise and extend certain segments, which sometimes works but mostly comes across awkwardly with moments of poor timing and prolonged breaks and returns for heightened impact. Where they add extra flesh to the aforementioned songs, the meat of ‘New Song’ and ‘Disco/Very’, the closers before the encore, is skimmed and noticeably so. It is unfortunate because these are the Warpaint songs that encourage involuntary dancing, and finger gunning (You’ve got the moves, you’ve got the moves, you’ve got the moves, bang bang baby”) and yet when the opportunity presents itself to share the enthusiasm for these moments with the band the reality is not as fulfilling.
For the encore, Emily returns alone, “I lost the others backstage. I’ll do this one on my own, even though I forgot to practice it.” Despite the lack of faith in what’s unfolding, Kolkak gives the performance of the evening with a heartfelt rendition of ‘Baby’, which grows into a tribute to Patti Smith’s ‘Because The Night.’ Once she finishes, the rest of the band return with another song from Heads Up and as they leave the stage, thanking the crowd, you can’t help but feel a mixture of half-fulfilment, and perhaps there’s just a few things not in their favour for this particular gig such as venue, lack of rehearsal time, or maybe even a bit of jet lag. These interferences wouldn’t discourage a return to see them play again in a different setting though, but perhaps only after becoming more acquainted with their new material.
Warpaint photographed for State by Mark Earley