Warpaint - Manchester Albert Hall
"That wasn't anywhere near as good as everyone thinks it was..." Jeez. That's a lot to take in. Especially when the band has barely left the stage. I say that’s harsh. But anyway, they say you should learn to live with – celebrate, even – the differing views and opinions you and your friends hold dear. Hey, friend, it's not your fault you're not me! Forgive and forget, though. Move on. But I'm still processing, still letting the previous 90 minutes sink in, level out, take shape. So, while all that's going on, I opt for presuming I'm going to come out the other side of that clunky, ever-unpredictable process with both thumbs aloft. So I chance my arm: "Don’t talk such shit." Friends are hard, right?
Warpaint. I dunno. Was it just me who was always just a little bit in love with the idea of Warpaint? Found their whole spooky groove thing, that lolloping, asleep/awake, not-quite-a-jam schtick… a bit thin and underdeveloped? Probably. Then again, no denying, when they really dare to let themselves enjoy a shot of melody, it's dizzying, elevating and an inch away from euphoric and that's the Warpaint I could knock back all night.
Tonight, as a prelude to all levels of revelation, they set-up as minimally as you like. A back-projection of the Warpaint album cover feels like an apologetic afterthought. Twice, the world's weakest smoke machine fires up behind them and you feel faintly embarrassed. It's more Tony Benn than Sisters of Mercy. The whole affair's low rent/high art ambition is nailed by the band's stage clobber, which tonight is of the 'Just popping out for some milk' variety. But it's annoying, cos at the last minute I swapped Converse for actual shoes out of sense of occasion, and I get here and half the band have done the exact opposite. That's not much fun, is it?
Crowd's into it – which is good. Like, really into it; the front rows giving it the old arms-aloft thing when, um, something happens, alternately concentrating hard and smiling throughout. To be fair, something happens a lot – almost didn’t expect that. But once – deep breath – it gets going, it really gets going. It's a set of two distinct halves. Early doors, mood and feel and vibe dominate. The opening 'Warpaint' is a shock: the sound is a little bit muffled but it's loud as you like and when Jenny Lee Lindberg's bass inches its way up the mix and Lindberg, Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman's voices arch and rise together, every half-formed notion you had that Warpaint were a bit reedy, a bit warbly and too reliant by half on Wayman's blurry, abstract guitar lines, gets given the shortest shrift. 'Undertow' and 'Love is to Die' appear as late-comers are still stumbling to their (literally, as is the case with gig-going in restored 16th century Wesleyan chapels) pews. Both lift (literally, probably) the roof. The latter, taking over from the former as their best song, still hangs most of its bittersweet mystery around the line that goes "This could only go one way…" Everyone knows that line. Everyone loves that line. Everyone in the house waits for it and then mouths it under their breath.
After that, there's a minor comedown as they play new track 'No Way Out', and we try hard to pretend we really like it. Then Stella Mozgawa fires up 'Intro' and the place – seriously – goes berserk. You have to admire their cheek. Seinfeld voice: It's an intro! Plus, on the album, they fuck it up and have to start it again. Sadly, they sidestep the temptation to commit the wittiest art crime of the century and keep the fuck up in, but even so – it's 90 seconds of warm-up. And yet it's huge. Straight into 'Keep It Healthy'. Then 'Disco//Very', which is little more than a pulse. 'Elephants'. Then 'Bees'. I'm writing song titles in a little notebook like a twat because, for once, saying what happened feels like a really important thing to properly focus on. Let's play 'Warpaint Song Title Generator', yeah? Take any word. Pluralise it. Ooh, get me.
During all that - a sequence of songs monolithic and unstoppable - I decide to forgive Emily Kokal for the odd bit where (ouch) she clearly can't hear herself and further decide that Jenny Lee Lindberg is the beating heart of the band. After that, a closing 'Biggy' is a blissful outro, a main set coda whose bass riff suddenly mirrors McCartney's on 'Come Together'. And that's fitting, right? This shared experience, a communal outpouring orchestrated by this band you thought you knew – this band you didn't know at all – is everything the live experience can and should be. There are encores, and properly won they are, too. None of this 'Oh – you want another one..? Oh, OK then!' nonsense. Manchester roars them back for more. 'I'll Start Believing'. 'Burgundy'. 'Krimson'. (I'm like this: don’t stop! Jam it out! Go somewhere, anywhere! We're with you! But they resist. Gah. For the future, maybe.) Still, where once Warpaint felt distinctly (and yet, tantalisingly) unknowable, now they’re starting to explore the possibilities; the possibilities of intimacy, of feeding off the shared experience, of knowing themselves better through starting to know us.
I used to think Warpaint were making it up as they went along. Unforgivable. Criminal, even. I can hardly look myself in the eye right now. How about you? You knew all along, right?