Aldous Harding @ The Art School, Glasgow, 17 Nov
Aldous Harding's otherworldly voice is the star of the show as the New Zealander returns to Glasgow
On a stage lit in stark red and white, New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding starts off her set solo, hunched over her big white semi-acoustic guitar as if she wants to hide away from the audience. Throughout the set she says little and it's sometimes hard to tell whether this is part of some grander performance or if she's genuinely a little overwhelmed to be playing her intimate music on such a large stage.
The set opens with Swell Does the Skull, the closing track from her acclaimed second album Party. It's a minimalist piece using little more than some picked guitar, unsettlingly speeding up and slowing down, and the star of the show is Harding's otherworldly voice. It's a fine instrument; emotional, passionate and capable of switching between a witchy whisper and a powerful upper register that shakes the room. Hearing it for the first time is akin to hearing Joanna Newsom or Jónsi; part intimate confessional, part elemental force. There's such a contrast between the two strands of her voice that it's hard to believe that they both emanate from the same body.
The bulk of tonight's set is taken from Party rather than the more conventional folk-rock of her debut, and the whole aesthetic of her show has evolved to mirror this shift in subject matter, with little in the way of lighting and just a pair of musicians including support act H. Hawkline joining Harding on bass and piano. In fact it's when these additional musicians take to the stage that the set opens up a little and Harding comes into her own.
While the opening tracks are claustrophobic confessionals, the likes of Imagining My Man and Party benefit from more expansive arrangements. Throughout all of this the audience are in hushed silence but the former track in particular lands an enormous round of applause as Harding sheds her overcoat to reveal her now-customary all white outfit underneath. Standing at the microphone with her hair streaming, she resembles Winona Ryder circa Stranger Things and there's a strong crowd reaction to this flash of drama. The decision to use pre-programmed electronic percussion robs the show of a little warmth but we quickly adjust and the sleek, disorientating effect only serves to highlight the feelings of dislocation, claustrophobia and anxiety that Harding specialises in evoking.
Despite all the morbidity in Harding's songs she's capable of being surprisingly funny, with the deft shifting imagery of one new song sending shivers and ripples of laughter alike through the crowd. Ending on the weighty gothic piano chords of Horizon, Harding bids a swift farewell and the crowd – including Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat – troop off into the night. It's not a perfect show but it's one that will stay in the mind for some time.