Gently strumming, Aldous Harding opens solo with The World Is Looking For You, her soothing voice with just the right amount of vibrato luring us into her captivating, artistic world.
She wears burnt orange wide-leg pants and matching boxy, oversized jacket, white trainers and a navy fabric hat with upturned brim that enhances her expressive face; eyes rolled back in her head sometimes as if in a trance, mouth forming whatever shapes are required to allow for her trademark idiosyncratic pronunciation.
The title track from Harding’s brilliant latest and third album, Designer, shows off her extraordinary backing band while she encourages, “Give up your beauty.” Following this number, Harding instructs, “Just be yourselves,” and there’s scattered laughter. Zoo Eyes features such intriguing lyricism – “I drove my inner child to a show/ We talked all the way home” – with a lilting chorus vocal melody that transports us to yet another of the alternate universes Harding seems to inhabit through her art. When Harding stands up to perform without her guitar, she calls to mind a marionette.
“You’re all very quiet,” Harding observes, before announcing, “I’ll play something on my guitar.” She then dedicates Treasure to “a lovely woman” she met earlier today. Hunched over, chin resting on her guitar and with one foot atop a carefully positioned stomp box (“It’s gotta be right”), Harding makes extended eye contact with select audience members, sometimes casting withering looks. The opening strains of The Barrel are greeted by “woo!”s of recognition from various punters. Damn (“Sorry I was late and you didn’t get your weekend”), with Harding playing tranquil piano accompaniment, washes over like a lullaby.
Harding’s four-piece backing band juggle instruments, masterfully supplying each song’s often minimal instrumentation; synths you’d swear were a string section elevate Weight Of The Planets. “This song is not my own,” is how Harding introduces her reimagining of Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down The Line, and it’s truly mind-blowing stuff, sung in the highest of registers in breathy fashion. During this cover Harding somehow replicates a brass solo using only her voice.
We can’t hear Blend without visualising the song’s accompanying Charlotte Evans-directed music video, which sees Harding sporting a custom-made cowgirl outfit and pays homage to the playmate scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now. The audience goes completely nuts after this one.
Before performing I’m So Sorry, which she reveals is one of her favourite songs from previous album Party, Harding inquires, “I wonder if I was what you expected?” We cheer to express our approval and then she hilariously quips, “That wasn’t directed at you.”
Harding closes with a new song, Old Peel, during which she turns a regular ceramic mug into an instrument, striking it percussively with a stick to punctuate this song’s staccato chords. Harding receives a standing ovation before introducing her backing musicians one by one.
There’s boundless beauty in Harding’s musical output and her live performance is an immersive experience during which our daily struggles – and just the outside world in general – completely fade away.
Designer, the latest album by Aldous Harding, is out now via 4AD/Remote Control.