Aldous Harding @ The Art School, Glasgow, 18 May
As she returns to Glasgow, Aldous Harding proves she's still a beguiling performer – ethereal, poised and a little bit frightening
There's a sense of exclusivity among the occupants of The Art School on this Saturday night, as though we're all sharing a glorious but well-kept secret. It's odd to imagine an artist as expansive and compelling as Aldous Harding tucked away in such a modest venue. This is a huge deal. Everyone should hear it – but we are among the lucky few who will.
Harding walks on stage to all the commotion she deserves. She gazes at the audience, eyes wide with an incredulous curiosity, perhaps wondering how a room of people ended up here tonight, halfway across the world from her home, to watch her perform. The band quickly fall into the new record’s glossy title track Designer which weaves elements of folk and jazz instrumentation together as easily as it weaves between sincerity and breeziness – a hint of things to come. Next is the grandiose Zoo Eyes, exhibiting Harding’s many voices, from husky beginnings to the magnificent heady voice declaring, 'It’s the greatest show on Earth'.
The show is very soft, with moments of wildness. Harding is a beguiling performer – ethereal, poised and a little bit frightening. She's a rock star standing centre stage; a wizened figure slumped in a chair; a child perched playing chords at the piano. She wastes little time with audience interaction and remains behind a curtain of almost alien eccentricity – this gig is more like theatre, the outlandishness of it oddly reflective of Harding’s insecurity.
In an interview with RNZ, Harding describes her obsession with her live act and her fear that the performance will differ from how she intends it to look – a tension which seems to render the show both self-conscious and unrestrained. There's a deliberateness to every piece of instrumentation, too, the band not needing to fill the silence but accompanying Harding only when strictly necessary.
At one point somebody shouts out her real name – Hannah. She pauses, thinks on this for a moment and repeats the name back, as though amused by the fluidity of her own identity; the collision of her worlds.
Even after the first encore the set feels somehow unfinished and the crowd cheer impatiently, although music has started on the PA. Returning unaccompanied, she picks up her bright red classical guitar and sinks into the longing The World Is Looking For You from 2017's Party. The crowd listens with admiration as she works her way through it, hoping to soak up even a tiny bit of the magic she exudes. Whether deliberate or not, the closing lyrics – ‘There is no end to the madness I feel’ – leave the show unresolved still; the audience left aching for more, but patient, grateful.