There is one advantage in not being familiar with a band or its material when you watch them for the first time. You start with a clean sheet and can be perhaps more objective than you might otherwise be. Gothenburg’s Little Dragon put on a performance at the Academy that left their fans more than happy but didn’t quite bridge the gap sufficiently to hook a new one.
The show got off to a difficult start when a member of the audience was taken ill and it had to be stopped for 10 minutes while he was treated by paramedics. But Little Dragon was quickly back into its stride even if the volume early on was perhaps a tad too high and the mix wayward. Shortly before the enforced interruption Yukimi Nagano had been hammering away at a cowbell but might as well have been waving an orchestral conductor’s baton for all you could hear at the back.
Drawing largely but not exclusively on the band’s fifth studio album, ‘Season High,’ it’s easy to understand Little Dragon’s popularity. What they have in abundance is the admirable musical prowess of twin keyboardists Fredik Källgren Wallin and Håkan Wirenstrand, the unerringly steady beat of Erik Bodin and in Nagano a singer whose voice matches the mood of their mostly danceable songs perfectly, along with the lighting and general stage presentation.
What they lack is variety and in some cases any real semblance of melody. In the early part of the set there was a succession of songs that were routinely delivered and, frankly, collectively monotonous at times. That is partly down to the fact that as well as you can work an electronic keyboard the diversity of sounds you can produce is limited. The only real respite was Wallin’s occasional employment of his bass guitar. In contrast the support act, Ross from Friends (no, it wasn’t actually him) included a saxophonist, whose sporadic contribution on that instrument was a pleasing counterpoint in a set that wasn’t otherwise dissimilar to Little Dragon’s music except that it contained just one 40-minute long piece.
Neither, unfortunately, do you find many peaks and troughs in the way the music is presented. While it would be unfair to describe it as bland it only rarely inspires. Unfortunately again, a lack of a deep rapport with the audience might have contributed. There was banter of course, but a lot of it was of the customary and interchangeable “hey Manchester, how you doing, you good?… we love you’ variety, which perhaps didn’t square with the expectations of the many committed fans in the audience of around 750.
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Later in the set the songs did seem to get funkier and it was possible to hear a tune here and there, however briefly.
Then, out of the blue, a revelation; a flurry of excitement, as Yakimi Nagano disappeared off stage, thence to return during the excellent ‘Strobe Light’ (or Strob Light as she sings it) in a costume that was somewhere between an exotic Turkish dancer; E.T. when it’s taken off on its lunar fly-past; and something Peter Gabriel might have worn during ‘Supper’s Ready’ or ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.’
This visual feast, accompanied by a ratcheting up of the lighting effects and songs that appeared to have greater vigour made for a very entertaining final 15 minutes. As the set concluded with ‘Ritual Union,’ in which Nagano made a more than adequate impression of Björk, upwards of 50 people suddenly rushed back into the venue through an open door at the back as if entranced by the sudden shift in the energy level.
And so it was with the encore, comprising of three songs and finishing with the soulful ‘Twice.’ It takes nerve to conclude any set with a down-tempo number but they gauged this part of the show with aplomb.
That final quarter was on a different level altogether and it’s a pity that standard could not have been sustained throughout the ninety minutes.
Little Dragon is an acquired taste and while they didn’t quite manage to acquire the writer on the night there was enough in the last half hour at least to stimulate interest.
Kudos to the band (and the venue) for completing the 17-song set despite the interruption which took it past the curfew.